The Conn Smythe Trophy was first handed out 50 years ago today, when Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau was named the winner after an eight-goal, 16-point post-season. Beliveau’s performance was spectacular, but there have been some incredible winners since.
It was 50 years ago today that Jean Beliveau, the Montreal Canadiens legend, was named the first ever recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Beliveau paced Montreal with eight goals and 16 points in 1964-65, as the Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup in seven games over the Chicago Blackhawks. At the time, it was one of the best playoff performances and it would take five years before a player, the legendary Bobby Orr (9 goals, 20 points), won the trophy with a better offensive performance.
Since Beliveau’s win a half-century ago, however, there have been many players who have carved out a small piece of history for themselves with remarkable post-season performances that helped them capture of Conn Smythe honors. These are the five best:
5. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, 2011-12
It was the 2011-12 Stanley Cup run that vaulted Quick to stardom. While he was a steady netminder for the Kings during the regular season, Quick seemingly found another gear that post-season and he almost single-handedly carried Los Angeles to its first ever Stanley Cup victory.
His unorthodox style helped him earn the Conn Smythe the year following then-Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas, who himself became a household name because of his strange, never-quit brand of goaltending. But no matter how good Thomas may have been, no goaltender holds a candle to what Quick achieved that post-season.
Coming in as the eighth seed in the tough Western Conference, Quick and the Kings rolled their way through to the final and won the Stanley Cup in six games over the New Jersey Devils. By the time the final whistle blew and the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads, Quick’s final stat line read like a video game: 16-4 record, 1.41 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. No goaltender who has won the Conn Smythe has ever posted a lower GAA or better SP.
4. Reggie Leach, Philadelphia Flyers, 1975-76
Only five players in the history of the award have won it as a member of the losing team — four of those are goaltenders and the other is Leach, a winger who became a hockey icon following his playoff performance with the Flyers.
In the 1975-76 post-season, Leach, who had scored 61 times during the regular season, found the back of the net 19 times in 16 games. Though the Flyers failed to defend their 1974-75 Stanley Cup and fell in four straight to the Montreal Canadiens, Leach was awarded the Conn Smythe.
His 19 goals remain the NHL record for most by any player in playoff history. Jari Kurri matched the feat with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984-85, but no one has surpassed the mark.
3. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche, 1995-96
As incredible as Leach’s performance was in 1975-76, he played in an era where goal scoring was at some of its highest totals. During Leach’s Conn Smythe-winning 19-goal playoff, 3.41 goals were scored per game during the regular season. During 1995-96, when Sakic won the Conn Smythe with an 18-goal, 34-point performance, the average goals per game? 3.14.
Sakic’s 34 points stand as the 11th highest total in post-season history, a mark he shares with five other players. In the post-season, the Avalanche never played more than six games in a series and Sakic had six game-winning goals en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
2. Brian Leetch, New York Rangers, 1993-94
Now imagine Sakic scored 34 points all from the blueline.
Leetch’s playoff run in 1993-94 is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, stretch of post-season hockey by a defenseman in the history of the league. Over the playoffs, Leetch scored 11 goals and 34 points as the New York Rangers snapped a 54-year Cup drought.
Only one defenseman in NHL history has ever scored more points in a post-seaosn, and that’s Paul Coffey, who tallied 12 goals and 37 points in 1984-85. Sadly for Coffey, he didn’t take home the Conn Smythe. Reason being…
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers, 1984-85
No one ever has – nor likely ever will – break Gretzky’s record of 47 points in a post-season. Over the course of 18 games, the Great One managed 17 goals and a whopping 30 assists, which included four power play markers, two shorthanded goals and three game winners.
Before Gretzky’s playoffs that year, no player had ever eclipsed the 2.6 points-per-game mark in the post-season. Gretzky, at 2.611, is the only player to ever do so. Of those who have come close to Gretzky’s points-per-game record in the post-season, none have made it out of the first round.
It should come as no surprise that Gretzky turned in the best playoff performance in NHL history, especially considering what a powerhouse the team was.
In 1984-85, the Oilers tore through the competition on the road to their second consecutive Cup. They swept the first and second rounds, didn’t lose until Game 3 of the Campbell Conference final against Chicago and hung 10 goals on the Blackhawks twice in that series. In the Cup final, after losing the opening game 3-1, Gretzky and Co. rattled off four straight wins for the Cup.