The Tampa Bay Lightning can make history with the third straight championship, but there’s another individual milestone that’s worth noting: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s quest to win his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
The 27-year-old Russian netminder could become just the second goaltender in history to win the award in consecutive years after Bernie Parent accomplished the feat in 1974 and 1975, and the third goalie to win it multiple times after Parent and Patrick Roy, who won it a league-record three times in 1986, 1993 and 2001.
BetMGM’s Conn Smythe odds have Vasilevskiy tied with Nikita Kucherov as the third most likely winner, with both of the top spots occupied by Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, partly because the Colorado Avalanche are favored to win.
Unlike the other playoff MVP in the NBA, MLB or NFL, which is awarded based on the performance in the finals, the Conn Smythe is awarded to the player who has been the best player throughout the entire playoffs. That means while Brayden Point may return for Game 1 and play a significant role, he has played just seven games in the playoffs, effectively ruling him out of contention.
Here’s a rundown of the key names and betting odds for each player. Puck drop for Game 1 is Wednesday.
Cale Makar – 2.75
Makar has already received the greatest compliment anyone could receive, and then to have “The Great One” compare you to Bobby Orr… that’s a whole new stratosphere. In just his third season, Makar has established himself as arguably the league’s best defenseman even though he has yet to win the Norris Trophy. He is the Avs’ leading scorer heading into the Finals with 22 points in 14 games, and plays a huge role in their transition offense and also maintaining sustained offensive pressure with his ability to walk the line and shoot the puck. The Conn Smythe has historically favored forwards (28 winners) and goalies (17) over defensemen (11), and only one defenseman – yup, the once incomparable Orr – has won it more than once. This could be the start of something special with Makar.
Nathan MacKinnon – 3.00
Makar has been the Avs’ best player but a big showing in the Finals could push MacKinnon over the top. Angry and bitter after last season’s early exit against the Golden Knights, MacKinnon has played like a man possessed this postseason. He started the playoffs with a three-point performance in Game 1 against the Predators in the opening round and extended it to a seven-game point streak, and he also has more multi-point games (3) than zero-point games (2). He leads all skaters with 82 shots on goal, 15 more than the next highest total despite playing two fewer games, and averages 21:07 TOI/GP, tops among Avs forwards. MacKinnon’s 13.84 expected goals at 5-on-5 ranks fifth in the league, according to naturalstattrick.com, trailing only the Oilers’ top line and Artemi Panarin. One really big speedbump in MacKinnon’s way: Anthony Cirelli, whose defensive play has been excellent throughout the playoffs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy – 5.00
Vasilevskiy will be the front runner if the Lightning win, and note the Conn Smythe has been awarded to the losing team just five times, four of them to goalies and most recently to the Mighty Ducks’ Jean-Sébastien Giguère in 2003. Vasilevskiy was the winner last season and currently leads all playoff goalies in wins (12) and second in both save percentage (.928) and goals-against average (2.27) among those with at least 10 appearances. If the Finals turns into a low-scoring affair, Vasilevskiy’s chances of winning are very good, win or lose.
Nikita Kucherov – 5.00
Kucherov is the Lightning’s leading scorer with 23 points in 17 games, which is nothing new considering he led them in scoring the two previous playoff runs as well. He had a relatively slow start in the opening round after being held to zero points in two of the first three games against the Maple Leafs, but in the following 14 games amassed 20 points. If Kucherov wins, he would be the third different Lightning to win the award and also only the third Russian player to do so after Evgeni Malkin (2009) and Alex Ovechkin (2018). A high-scoring series with Kucherov maintaining his current point-per-game pace may vault him ahead of Vasilevskiy, and it’ll be very funny if Kucherov calls “number one bullshit” on himself if he wins it over his fellow goalie.
Steven Stamkos – 15.00
When it comes to futures and player props, it’s usually better to stay with the favorites because the payouts are already pretty good and also because it often takes excellent performances by the longshot and poor performances by the favorite to change minds. However, among the longshot bets, Stamkos stands out because he’s had an excellent playoff run, playing a bigger role than last season and keeping the ship afloat despite Point’s absence. He’s third on the team in scoring and tied with Ondrej Palat for first in even-strength goals (8), coming up clutch in big games, including a two-goal effort in Game 6 to finish off the Rangers, though it’s still far more likely he and Kucherov finish behind Vasilevskiy in voting.
Mikko Rantanen – 17.00
Considering what Rantanen is capable of, his playoff performances have been rather underwhelming. He scored just one goal – an empty netter – entering the conference finals before managing to score a goal in all four games in a lopsided sweep against the Oilers. He will get a bigger role as the No. 2 center with Kadri out of the lineup, but even with an outstanding Finals is very unlikely to win the Conn Smythe due to his poor start.
Gabriel Landeskog – 21.00
Landeskog’s odds are slightly lower than Rantanen but his impact has been far more consistent. Statistically, they’re tied in points with 17 apiece and Rantanen holds the slightest edge in advanced metrics, but looking at the overall body of work, Landeskog should have the edge, making a bigger impact offensively at both even strength and on the power play. The last time a forward who didn’t lead his team in scoring to win the Conn Smythe in the cap era was Ovechkin in 2018, and no player who finished below second in team scoring has ever won.
Victor Hedman – 21.00
Considering that a lot of the toughest matchups are handled by Ryan McDonagh, and Hedman is scoring at a slightly lower pace than in 2020 when he won the Conn Smythe, he’s certainly a very long shot for an award that doesn’t usually favor defensemen. Hedman’s health could be a storyline in the Finals after he was pulled from the bench by a concussion spotter in Game 6 following a high hit from Alexis Lafrenière.
Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz – 41.00
Considering both goalies have been rather subpar and share the same number of wins, and despite Kuemper likely getting the nod for Game 1, placing bets on either goalie would be a waste. Kuemper’s injury history is always a concern, and his leash might be short considering how well Francouz has played in relief.
Ondrej Palat – 81.00
His even-strength play has been very good, but he’s unfortunately buried behind a bunch of better players with better name recognition. He’s the third wheel on the top line and barring a monumental performance, seems unlikely to supplant Stamkos or Kucherov, much less Vasilevskiy, for the award.
Nazem Kadri and Brayden Point – 101.00
Both players’ status is questionable for the finals, though Kadri has the edge because he’s played more games. Remember, the Conn Smythe is awarded based on their entire body of work throughout the playoffs, which unfortunately puts Kadri and Point as very long longshots through no fault of their own.