The Stanley Cup Finals showdown between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Boo-ins ( sorry: that was a cheap shot, Bruins fans!) truly epitomizes the essence of the sport of hockey: having superstars is great for filling the seats, but in order to win you really need to have a team of players who buy into a system, execute a game plan to perfection, and pick up the slack when others are not playing well. Both the Blackhawks and the Bruins have proven that you don’t need to have players who sit atop the league rankings during the regular season in order to be successful . . . which is great for coaches who will use these teams as an example of a “team-first approach,” but which also makes picking this year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner a bit of a nightmare.
The most obvious choice – the one which I am going to on the record right now as saying will come true – is to hand the trophy over to the winning goalie. Unless the Finals turns out to be a goaltending fiasco on both ends, you can make the argument that Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford were each the best players on their respective teams this postseason, with the tie going to the players whose team lifts the cup. (I know: a player from the losing team should still be considered when the voting is held, but unless one of these goalies take his play to a whole new level during the finals, I think they are neck-and-neck in this race, and winning Lord Stanley’s Cup is the ultimate tie-breaker!)
Like I said: rewarding the goaltender is the most obvious choice, because of the goalie’s ability to steal a game (or two, or three . . .) over the course of the playoffs. However, in front of every goalie, there is a defense, and when you have players like Duncan Keith (11 points, +6, 21 blocked shots) and Zdeno Chara (who helped keep Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoreless in their four-game series) in front of your net-minders, their names need to be brought up during the discussion.
Lest we focus solely on how teams stop goals from being scored, we need to remember that NO team can win if they cannot score goals. Even on teams where scoring is getting done via the “by committee” approach, players such as David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Bryan Bickell, and Marian Hossa have turned in stellar postseason performances that make them contenders for the Conn Smythe trophy.
Considering what these players have accomplished so far, and looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Finals, who do you think will hoist the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP?