Though we can debate endlessly whether or not the playoffs are the best standard by which to judge players and teams, there is no doubt that they are important. It is therefore essential to underline the contributions of those who help their teams succeed in the playoffs. The NHL has done this since 1965 with the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded annually to the player judged to be most valuable in the playoffs. The classic question returns: on what basis do we judge the most valuable to postseason player?
Historically, the Conn Smythe has been awarded to a member of the Stanley Cup winning team. Of the 43 winners, only 5 have come from the losing team, the last being Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003. This, it seems, is as it should be: after all, if the team that wins the Cup is the best team, shouldnít they have the best players? However, many Cinderella stories end in the Stanley Cup finals, and interestingly, many of the top playoff players have seen their dreams crushed in the finals by a superior team. Take a look at the list of playoff GVT leaders since 1991:
Name Team(s) P Season Rank GP Val OG Val D Total
Mario Lemieux Penguins F 90_91 1 23.0 11.1 2.0 13.1
Mario Lemieux Penguins F 91_92 1 15.0 11.0 1.5 12.5
Patrick Roy Canadiens G 92_93 1 21.6 21.2 0.0 21.2
Kirk McLean Canucks G 93_94 1 25.7 20.8 0.0 20.8
Martin Brodeur Devils G 94_95 1 20.4 19.6 0.0 19.6
John Vanbiesbrouck Panthers G 95_96 1 22.2 22.8 0.0 22.8
Eric Lindros Flyers F 96_97 1 19.0 12.4 2.2 14.6
Olaf Kolzig Capitals G 97_98 1 22.5 25.5 0.0 25.5
Dominik Hasek Sabres G 98_99 1 20.3 21.1 0.0 21.1
Ed Belfour Stars G 99_00 1 24.1 16.5 0.0 16.5
Patrick Roy Avalanche G 00_01 1 24.2 24.8 0.0 24.8
Peter Forsberg Avalanche F 01_02 1 20.0 12.9 3.8 16.7
Jean-Sebastien Giguere Ducks G 02_03 1 23.4 32.3 0.0 32.3
Jarome Iginla Flames F 03_04 1 26.0 13.2 5.2 18.4
Dwayne Roloson Oilers G 05_06 1 19.3 20.7 0.0 20.7
Daniel Alfredsson Senators F 06_07 1 20.0 13.4 2.4 15.8
Marc-Andre Fleury Penguins G 07_08 1 20.9 19.3 0.0 19.3
Notice a pattern? Four of the first four winners are the people you expected to lead their teams to Stanley Cup success: Mario Lemieux (twice), Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. Other than Roy again in 2001, all of the other players are players on the team that lost the Stanley Cup finals. One of them, Peter Forsberg in 2002, didnít even make it to the finals! Obviously, some of these players padded their stats against the weaker opposition in the earlier rounds, floundering in the finals (Lindros comes to mind). Others played admirably the whole way, losing close in the Stanley Cup finals in squeakers: Kirk McLean in 1994, Hasek in 1999, Giguere in 2003 and Iginla in 2004. Should all of these players have been awarded the Conn Smythe? I believe the answer is yes. There is already a trophy for the players on the winning team: it is called the Stanley Cup, and if players are to be believed, then it is more valuable than any number of playoff MVP trophies. However, I disagree with those players. Anybody can win the Stanley Cup if heís on the right team at the right time, just ask Henri Richard, but it takes an exceptional player and an exceptional performance to win a playoff MVP, and I believe those players should be rewarded appropriately.
2009 Conn Smythe Watch
That being said, here are the current GVT ratings for the 2009 playoffs:
Name Team(s) P GP Val OG Val D Total
Jonas Hiller Ducks G 12.4 13.5 0.0 13.5
Alexander Ovechkin Capitals F 14.0 6.4 2.2 8.6
Sidney Crosby Penguins F 13.0 6.9 1.6 8.4
Tim Thomas Bruins G 10.0 6.4 0.0 6.4
Johan Franzen Red Wings F 10.0 4.3 1.3 5.5
Ryan Getzlaf Ducks F 12.0 4.7 0.6 5.4
Evgeni Malkin Penguins F 13.0 5.3 -0.1 5.3
Cam Ward Hurricanes G 13.1 5.3 0.0 5.3
Eric Staal Hurricanes F 13.0 3.8 1.0 4.8
Henrik Zetterberg Red Wings F 10.0 3.3 1.5 4.8
Martin Havlat Blackhawks F 12.0 3.5 0.7 4.2
Nicklas Backstrom Capitals F 14.0 3.3 0.8 4.1
Michael Ryder Bruins F 10.0 3.4 0.7 4.1
Phil Kessel Bruins F 10.0 2.9 1.1 4.1
Nicklas Lidstrom Red Wings D 10.0 2.7 1.3 4.0
Milan Lucic Bruins F 9.0 1.8 2.1 3.9
Brian Campbell Blackhawks D 12.0 2.3 1.6 3.9
Corey Perry Mighty Ducks F 12.0 3.3 0.4 3.8
Bill Guerin Penguins F 13.0 2.0 1.8 3.8
Marc Savard Bruins F 10.0 3.5 0.2 3.7
Daniel Sedin Canucks F 10.0 2.4 1.1 3.5
Patrick Kane Blackhawks F 11.0 3.8 -0.3 3.4
Martin Brodeur Devils G 7.1 3.4 0.0 3.4
Daniel Cleary Red Wings F 10.0 1.5 1.9 3.4
Alexander Semin Capitals F 14.0 3.3 0.0 3.3
Kris Letang Penguins D 12.0 2.3 1.0 3.3
Tom Poti Capitals D 14.0 1.4 2.0 3.3
Sergei Gonchar Penguins D 11.0 2.6 0.7 3.3
Brent Seabrook Blackhawks D 12.0 2.1 1.2 3.3
Chris Osgood Red Wings G 10.6 3.2 0.0 3.2
Nobody whoís been paying attention will be surprised to find Jonas Hiller at the top of this list. Other than for games 4 and 5 against Detroit, Hiller has been nothing short of spectacular, smothering the Sharks and keeping the Wingsí powerful offense within bounds. Though we all like to think that the Sharks were doomed to choke, Hiller had a lot to do with it. These rankings really underline that Anaheim has been the Hiller-Getzlaf show.
Despite being eliminated, Alexander Ovechkin comes in 2nd place. Itís too bad that the Capitals will be remembered for blowing game 7 instead of the fantastic first 6 games we were treated to. Ovechkin had a spectacular series against Pittsburgh, scoring 8 goals, 6 assists along with a +5 plus/minus rating in 7 games. Some other Capitals are up for criticism, expecially Mike Green: after a great regular season, his playoff performance has been atrocious, and people like me who tried to defend his defensive play are eating our words (Green has the 7th-worst defensive GVT in the league during the playoffs).
If Anaheim is eliminated tonight, Sidney Crosby is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe going forward. He has had an exceptional playoffs so far, and is putting up one of the strongest offensive performances in recent memory. Since 1997, when NHL scoring levels started dropping, the record for points in a playoff year is 28. If the Penguins return to the finals, Crosby could easily shatter this mark. Malkin and Getzlaf are within distance as well.
None of the top players have been a complete surprise: those who think Hiller has come out of nowhere werenít paying attention during the regular season, and while Franzen has certainly exceeded expectations, he did score 34 goals in 71 games during the regular season. In fact, the top 12 players all finished in the top 50 in regular season GVT. The real surprise has been the absence of certain top players, especially Mike Green and Pavel Datsyuk: Datsyuk in particular, with 4 points in 10 games, is going to look very silly if the Red Wings are eliminated tonight and he is held scoreless again. Now would be a great time to break out of that slump.
2009 Stanley Cup odds
Rank Team CF Fin Cup
1 Chicago Blackhawks 100.0 55.9 29.4
2 Boston Bruins 64.8 44.8 27.7
3 Detroit Red Wings 62.6 31.6 16.3
4 Pittsburgh Penguins 100.0 39.4 16.1
5 Carolina Hurricanes 35.2 15.8 6.0
6 Anaheim Ducks 37.4 12.4 4.5
This table will look very different tomorrow morning, as two of the six teams will be eliminated, but for now the Blackhawks and Bruins are the favorites to meet in the finals. Some would say that these odds understate Anaheimís chances of success, given their recent run. I somewhat agree with you, but I donít tweak the algorithms based on individual cases. Iím still giving them a 37% chance of winning game 7 in Detroit, which seems fair (theyíve won 1 of 3 there this series, in triple overtime).
Overall, these playoffs have been high on drama but short on surprises; the only real upset has been Anaheim's spectacular defeat of San Jose. The other upsets that did occur, such as Carolina beating New Jersey, were matchups that were very close and could have gone either way (and almost did). If Carolina eliminates Boston tonight, that would be a second one. Those who claim that the Blackhawks are the surprise team of the playoffs have been sleeping since October: the Blackhawks were the 4th best team in the regular season, and your experts at Puck Prospectus picked them to win both of their playoff series. Why is it such a shock to see them in the final four?
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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