Conn Smythe and the Kessel Run

At the conclusion of this year’s Stanley Cup series the Professional Hockey Writers Association will huddle up to debate and vote on the recipient of the 2016 Conn Smythe Trophy. A tradition that goes back to the 1964-1965 season, the award is presented to the player who is determined to be the most valuable to his team during the playoffs. The trophy is presented immediately after the game before the official presentation of the Stanley Cup to the winning team.

At this point we don’t know which team will hold aloft the famed Stanley Cup but with a 3-1 lead going into tonight’s game it seems likely that the Pittsburgh Penguins will garner their franchise’s 4th championship. As for the Conn Smythe award? Things are a little more complicated there.
It seems to be generally agreed that there are 3 main candidates for the award. Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Matt Murray. Kris Letang’s name has been thrown around as well but most eyes are focusing on the former three to be the most likely to add some metal to their trophy shelf.

For Crosby the Playoff MVP award would one of the few he hasn’t won over his 11-year career. You will recall that Evgeni Malkin took the honor when the Penguins won the Cup in 2009. A vote for Crosby wouldn’t exactly be an honorary one though. With 17 points in 22 games Crosby has definitely contributed mightily, especially given that 3 of those goals were game winners in the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay. Those numbers also indicate Crosby willingness to adopt the Penguins defensive style of play rather than going for the big offense. Nobody will bat an eye if the trophy lands in Crosby’s hands.

As for Matt Murray, it’s hard to find a better story than a rookie goaltender who posted 14 wins in 19 games while maintaining a 2.09 goal against average. His performance has led many to ask if the Penguins would have even made it this far with starter Marc-Andre Fleury in the net. If he manages one more victory he will have tied the record for most playoff wins by a rookie. Sounds like MVP material doesn’t it?

Then there’s Phil Kessel, the much-maligned right-winger who carried Toronto’s woes like a yoke around his neck. Now here is a story. As a Maple Leaf it seemed like Kessel was to blame for every loss, accused of every kind of infraction, and forced to explain the team’s shortcomings every single day. Fast-forward to the present and Kessel has scored 21 points in 22 games as a Penguin. His 10-playoff goals are the most on the team and he skates with the fabled HBK line that has acted like the rocket fuel to power the Pittsburgh jet engines. Nothing feels better than to prove someone else terribly wrong and wouldn’t we all feel just a little glee if Kessel were able to hoist that trophy over his shoulders thus shaking off all the bad mojo that’s been sitting there for years? Yes. Yes we would.

No matter who wins this year’s Conn Smythe they will find themselves stepping into a long line of talent and leadership. 42 different players have held the award over its 48 year history and whether it be Crosby, Murray, or Kessel they will all fit in nicely.