2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Who's the Conn Smythe favorite?

As we gear up for the Stanley Cup finals, we start the incredibly
premature breakdowns looking at which players might be the early
favorites for the Conn Smythe.

The Chicago Blackhawks and the
Philadelphia Flyers have each had players step it up and take their game
to the next level, providing the edge each team needed to advance to
the Stanley Cup finals.

I know that we focus a lot on what happens in the finals, but the
Conn Smyth is an award given to the MVP of the entire playoffs. Of
course, a player can’t go super cold in the Cup finals and be expected
to win, so I guess all of this is dependent on what happens in the
Stanley Cup
finals anyway.

Here’s the top three MVP candidates for both
teams:

Philadelphia Flyers

Mike
Richards; 6 goals, 15 assists, plus-6 

The captain of the
Flyers is leading his team in points and assists and early in the
postseason his leadership helped to give this team the confidence needed
to take out the Devils and the Bruins. He set the tone early for the
Flyers and the path they would take in the playoffs, and his leadership
has continued to be invaluable.

Yet he has just four points in
the past five games, and only scored once in the series win against
Montreal. He had a monster game in Game 5, but was far from the
offensive powerhouse he looked like he might become to start the
postseason.

Danny Briere; 9 goals, 9 assists, plus-4

Briere
leads his team in playoff goals and in game-winning goals (4) and is
the leading goal-scorer among all remaining players in the playoffs.
Something just seemed to click with Briere in the playoffs, despite
being what many considered perhaps the most frustrating player on the
Flyers in the regular season.

Like Richards, Briere went a bit
cold against Montreal and that could be held against him. Despite going
cold, that he’s still the leading scorer between these two teams (and is
tied for the lead in game-winning goals) just goes to show exactly how
good he was in the first two rounds.

Claude Giroux; 8 goals,
9 assists, plus-10

Giroux has been instrumental in the
Flyers’ success and has quietly racked up some great numbers. Leads all
remaining players in plus/minus, leads the Flyers in shot percentage and
has just four penalty minutes in 17 games.

Four.

He’s a
smart, yet physical and defensive player on a team known for it’s
physicality and dumbness from time to time. That’s what is most
important on a long playoff run like this one, a player to keep the team
grounded. That’s what Giroux has been for the Flyers.

Just missed: Chris Pronger, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton

Chicago
Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews, 7 goals, 19 assists,
plus-4

The player that was denied a Selke this past season
is leading all players in the playoffs with 19 asists and 26 points,
with just four penalty minutes in 16 games. He has a point in 13
straight playoff games, including one monster performance against
Vancouver with a hat trick and five points.

While he doesn’t have a
ton of goals, he’s been instrumental in nearly every major goal scored
by the Hawks this postseason. Forget the stats, just watching Toews on
the ice you can easily see just how well he’s playing. He dominates
nearly every shift, and has been able to not only be a defensive
shutdown specialist but also become the best playmaking center in the
playoffs. Better than Henrik Sedin, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and
every other star that’s no longer in the playoffs.

Dustin
Byfuglien; 8 goals, 2 assists, minus-3

Big Buff leads the
Hawks in goals and game-winning goals, but has just two assists and
doesn’t have the best plus/minus you’d want from an MVP candidate. Yet
there’s no doubting just how much he’s done for the Hawks, not just in
scoring some tremendous goals but with his attitude and approach as
well.

Byfuglien has used his combination of size and skill to
frustrate the opposition all postseason, getting Roberto Luongo and then
Evgeni Nabokov off their game, crashing the net and wreaking havoc at
every turn. The Blackhawks were talented last season but were
disappointed against the Red Wings. This is generally the same team as
last year, but Byfuglien’s is the the performance that has put the Hawks
over the top this season.

Antti Niemi; 12-4-0, 2.33 GAA,
.921 save %, 2 shutouts

He’s been incredible. He’s playing
the best he ever has for the Chicago Blackhawks, and while it’s tough
to say “they wouldn’t be here without him” he certainly gave the Hawks
the confidence they would need he can be relied upon to steal some wins
in the postseason.

The Blackhawks’ normally solid defense fell
apart a bit against the Sharks, allowing 91 shots in two games; Niemi
allowed just three goals in those two games and lead his team to two
closely played one-goal games. He’s been the difference in net that the
Hawks were hoping they’d have for a long postseason run.

Just missed: Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland, Brent Seabrook

The favorite:

Unfortunately for the Flyers, right now this award comes down to two of the Blackhawks players. The Flyers have been able to win with incredible team efforts and big performances up and down the roster, but the Blackhawks have two players that have outperformed not just their own teammates, but the rest of the playoff field as well.

Of course, the decision won’t be made until after the Stanley Cup finals. Projecting Jonathan Toews and Antti Niemi forward, you have to think that right now this is Toews’ award to lose. There is no doubt just how dominant he has been at times, as he’s perfectly balanced his game between penalty killing specialist and other-worldly playmaking center. He’s riding a 13-game point streak and it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be anything to slow him down anytime soon.

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    With Allen struggling, Blues turn to Pheonix Copley on Saturday

    ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 9: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on May 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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    The recent struggles of St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen have been well documented at this point.

    In his past 11 appearances he has managed only an .867 save percentage, his coach believes he is “locked up mentally,” and he did not even make the the trip with the team to Winnipeg for their game on Saturday afternoon against the Jets after giving up four goals on 10 shots against the Washington Capitals.

    With Allen at home getting a chance to “reset,” the Blues will be turning to recent call-up Pheonix Copley on Saturday afternoon as he makes his first career start.

    Copley was called up from the Blues’ AHL team in Chicago following the Blues’ recent loss to Washington. In 18 appearances with the Chicago Wolves this season Copley has a .920 save percentage and an 11-4-1 record.

    The 25-year-old Copley, who was acquired by the Blues two years ago as part of the T.J. Oshie for Troy Brouwer trade, has appeared in only one NHL game in his career. That was a relief appearance during the 2015-16 season when he took over for Allen in a 5-0 loss to the Nashville Predators. Copley stopped five of the six shots he faced that night.

    The Blues enter Saturday’s game having lost four of their past six games and are on the playoff bubble with 51 points in 46 games. The point total ties them with Nashville for third place in the Central Division (St. Louis has the tiebreaker at the moment because it has more regulation and overtime wins) while both teams are just one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

    Lightning place Erik Condra on waivers

    SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Erik Condra #22 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a shot on goal during a game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on November 16, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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    For the second time this season the Tampa Bay Lightning have placed veteran forward Erik Condra on waivers.

    The latest move came after he was a healthy scratch for Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Condra, 30, is currently in the second year of a three-year, $3.75 million contract he signed in free agency to join the team a year ago. So far his time with the Lightning has been a bit of a disappointment.

    He has played in just 10 games for the Lightning this season and has yet to record a point.

    The Lightning placed him on waivers just before the start of the 2016-17 season. He has spent most of this season playing for the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League where he has recorded 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 24 games.

    In 363 career games at the NHL level Condra has 39 goals and 59 assists. Only six of those goals have come as a member of the Lightning over the past two seasons since signing his contract in free agency.

    Sam Bennett on healthy scratch: ‘I don’t want to be in that position again’

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Sam Bennett #93 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    With four of their top-five scorers this season age 23 or younger, the Calgary Flames have a solid foundation of young core players in place when it comes to building a playoff contending team (and right now, they would be in the playoffs). Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Dougie Hamilton, all part of that young core, and have all been significant contributors to their playoff push this season.

    One of their young players that has struggled a bit this season, and especially recently, has been 20-year-old forward Sam Bennett.

    On Thursday night he even found himself as a healthy scratch for the team’s 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators as a result of those recent struggles.

    With only 18 points (nine goals, nine assists), a 46 percent Corsi percentage, and only 1.6 shots on goal per game this season it has been a bit of a disappointing season for the 2014 No. 4 overall pick. Especially after he showed so much promise during the 2015 playoffs and a year ago in what was his first full season in the league.

    On Friday, Bennett talked about the experience of having to watch from the press box, calling it “really tough.”

    “Watching wasn’t fun,” Bennett said, via Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald. “Everything about (Thursday) wasn’t fun. I don’t want to be in that position again. I want to do everything I can to stay in the lineup.”

    The decision to sit Bennett came after a particularly difficult stretch for him that saw him go 10 consecutive games without recording a single point and only 13 shots on goals while playing less than 15 minutes in three of the games. He is expected to draw back into the lineup for Saturday’s Battle of Alberta game against the Edmonton Oilers.

    As tough as the experience likely was for Bennett it’s still something that can be beneficial for a young player going through the type of slump he has gone through because it gives a perspective they might not get from being on the ice.

    The Flames enter Saturday’s game against Edmonton occupying the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

    Scott Darling may have earned himself some extra playing time

    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: Scott Darling #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    When the Chicago Blackhawks’ run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons started back in the 2009-10 season, goaltending was pretty consistently their biggest question mark over the first three or four years of that run. Today, as the Blackhawks continue to sit near the top of the Western Conference standings, it might be one of their greatest strengths.

    At this point it is not just because of Corey Crawford‘s development into one of the league’s best, most consistent starters.

    They are also getting excellent play from his backup, Scott Darling, and it continued on Friday night when he received the start against the Boston Bruins — only his second start in January — and responded with a 30-save shutout.

    Darling’s play has improved significantly this season in the Blackhawks’ net, and after Friday’s game he is carrying a .928 save percentage in his 21 appearances this season, including a pair of shutouts.

    Together the duo has the fourth best overall save percentage in the NHL (.920) and the second best even-strength save percentage (.937), trailing only the Washington Capitals.

    It is a positive development for both the Blackhawks and Darling himself.

    From a Blackhawks perspective, his play has given them a reliable backup that was not only able to successfully fill in for Crawford when he missed nearly a month due to an appendectomy earlier this season, but it has also made it so they can potentially manage his minutes a little more and keep him fresh for the playoffs without having to run him into the ground during the regular season. With Crawford going through a bit of a slump recently, allowing it least three goals in eight of his past 11 starts, it might even leave the door open for Darling to get another start on Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

    When asked about that possibility after Friday’s game coach Joel Quenneville would only say, “Their play a lot of time makes our decision for us.”

    Of course, we probably should not make too much of this. Crawford is still going to be the guy in Chicago, and even though he has hit a bit of a rough patch lately he is still one of the top goalies in the league and you have to think he will eventually work his way out this recent funk. It’s just that Darling might be worthy of getting an additional start or two at the moment until that happens.

    For Darling, it has been a big season as he plays through the final year of his contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Looking at the UFA market for goalies, you have Ryan Miller, who will be 36 years old and not really represent much of a long-term solution for anybody, and Ben Bishop and Steve Mason, who are both going through disappointing seasons. After that it is a bunch of a question marks. If Darling can continue to take advantage of the opportunities he gets in Chicago the way he has so far this season, he might end up earning himself an even bigger one in the summer.