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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    Pre-game reading: Laine better than Matthews?

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    — Up top, Bob McKenzie talks NHL and the Olympics. The Board of Governors is meeting today in Palm Beach, but don’t expect any decision until January.

    — TSN’s Gary Lawless believes Patrik Laine will end up being better than Auston Matthews. “Laine is the rarest of talents. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL and he is well ahead of just about every player in the world right now at the age of 18.” Yep, it’s basically Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby all over again. One’s a winger, the other’s a center. The prevailing hockey wisdom says the center is more valuable, because a center can make more of an impact at both ends of the ice. And, of course, Crosby’s backers can say he’s won two Stanley Cups. But Ovechkin has scored 537 goals in just 864 games, and that’s incredible in this day and age. We’ll have to wait and see who wins a Cup first between Laine and Matthews, assuming one wins one at all. Connor McDavid will probably have something to say as well. (TSN)

    — Here’s Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on why some NHL owners are reluctant to send players to the Olympics: “February is one of our biggest months and it’s hard to shut down for three weeks. First of all, you are shutting down your business. Period. And there is the risk of injuries and everything that goes with it. So it’s a tough situation. And the other part of it is, we’re not competing against the NFL at that time. We’re not competing against baseball at that time. It’s really just us and the NBA. So it’s really kind of our time. February, it’s hockey time in these types of markets.” (Postmedia)

    — Another impassioned plea to change the NHL’s points system and award three points for a win. “A three-point regulation win gives coaches and teams much greater incentive to win in regulation, and discourages teams sitting back in the third period of close games playing just to guarantee their point and hope for two in the extra frame. This would immediately improve the 60-minute NHL product, especially in the third period of tied and close games.” We couldn’t agree more, but the league has shown no appetite for such a change, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. (Metro)

    Matt Duchene remembers former Avalanche teammate Marek Svatos, who died last month of a drug overdose. “Svats, I hope people don’t judge him on that because he was an outstanding guy. He had a tough go — a lot of injuries, a lot of surgeries. As an athlete, it’s hard to not be a little depressed at times. For him, the amount he went through, it’s sad and all I can do is send my condolences to his family and hopefully they can stay strong. We’re all praying for them.” (Denver Post)

    — Sean McIndoe has a list of 10 lies all hockey fans tell themselves. We particularly enjoyed Lie No. 5: “Our prospect pipeline is stacked.” Because general managers are guilty of this too. The way the NHL is set up, it’s basically impossible to have zero prospects. Writes McIndoe: “Every team has prospects. Some of those, by definition, will even be the team’s best prospects. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. And just pointing out that they exist doesn’t mean the future is bright.” (Sportsnet)

    Enjoy the games!

    Price, Weber will be key to Canadiens’ survival without Galchenyuk, Desharnais

    MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens congratulates Carey Price #31 for their victory over the Boston Bruins during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    The Montreal Canadiens were already starting to wobble. With just four wins in their last 11 games, now the Habs will be forced to play without centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais for the next six to eight weeks.

    It’s a heck of a challenge for any team, let alone one that endured a horrendous collapse last season when Carey Price was lost to injury.

    Galchenyuk is the big loss now. The 22-year-old is Montreal’s leading scorer with 23 points (9G, 14A). He’d developed great chemistry with Alex Radulov, who is likely to skate now with Tomas Plekanec on the first line.

    To be sure, the Habs still have Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw to provide scoring. Shaw can also play center. So can Phillip Danault, the 23-year-old who came to Montreal in February in a trade with Chicago.

    But above all, they’ll need Price to be Price. The best goalie in the world (sorry, Bruce Boudreau), Price can keep the Habs in any and all games, even ones where they’re outshot badly.

    Given the standings, the Canadiens just need to survive this next month or two without a full-on collapse. They’ve already built a nice playoff cushion. They don’t have to worry if they lose a couple here and there, which they’re bound to do given their situation.

    This is also where Weber’s leadership will be tested. GM Marc Bergevin traded away a pretty popular player to get Weber, whom he called a “tremendous leader,” as well as a “complete and reliable defenseman.” Bergevin made that move for times like these, when the heat in that hockey-mad market goes way up.

    Montreal starts a four-game home stand tonight against New Jersey. Looking ahead on the schedule, there’s a six-game road trip after Christmas, with stops in Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Dallas and Toronto.

    If they can survive that trip, they can survive anything.

    It should be fascinating to watch them try.

    Goalie nods: Oilers give Gustavsson shot at cooling off Flyers

    EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up before the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    With six straight wins, Philly is one of the NHL’s hottest teams — and tonight, the Flyers will look to make it seven as Edmonton and backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson come to town.

    Gustavsson hasn’t been used much this season, but has fared well when called upon. He made 31 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to the Wild this past Sunday and, on the year, has posted a 2.00 GAA and .923 save percentage.

    Of course, those numbers have come in a small sample size. The Monster has just five appearances this season, and only three of them were starts.

    Now, he’ll be thrown into arguably his biggest test of the year at Wells Fargo. The Flyers are rolling, Steve Mason has been lights out and the team continues to get terrific production from Wayne Simmonds, who has four goals in his last two games (and 15 total on the year, to lead the club).

    Of note, tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Oilers — they play in Minnesota tomorrow — so Gustavsson goes in Philly, while regular No. 1 Cam Talbot faces the Wild on Friday.

    Elsewhere…

    Calvin Pickard gets his first start since Nov. 29 when the Avs take on the B’s in Boston. No word yet on a Bruins starter.

    — The red-hot Jake Allen, who has won his last eight starts, will be in for the Blues. The Isles will counter with Thomas Greiss, who draws in after Jaroslav Halak performed well over the last three contests.

    Roberto Luongo has lost three of his last four, despite posting a stellar .928 save percentage over that span. He’ll be in for the Panthers tonight as they host Pittsburgh. Matt Murray is in goal for the Pens.

    Ryan Miller‘s back in goal for Vancouver, after Jacob Markstrom got last game in New Jersey. Miller will face Ben Bishop, who gets the nod for the host Lightning.

    — Marquee matchup in Montreal, as Cory Schneider and the Devils take on Carey Price and the Habs.

    Henrik Lundqvist gets a night off after starting four straight, as Antti Raanta will face the Jets. Winnipeg is likely to go with Michael Hutchinson, who occupied the starter’s net at practice this morning.

    Pekka Rinne will look to beat the Stars for the second time this season. Dallas has yet to name a starter.

    — To nobody’s surprise, Chad Johnson will be back in goal when the Flames take on the Coyotes in Arizona. Johnson has won seven of his last eight. For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

    Jeff Zatkoff, who made 25 saves in a win his last time out, looks to be the Kings starter. No word yet from the ‘Canes, but Cam Ward was in for last night’s 6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim.

    Draisaitl’s growth raises questions for Oilers

    EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 29:  Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers faces off against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 29, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    It’s easy to forget about Leon Draisaitl.

    Mostly because he’s not Connor McDavid, and that’s who everyone thinks of when they think of the present-day Edmonton Oilers.

    They also think about the other first overall draft picks: Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, only the latter of whom is still with the team.

    But back to Draisaitl — imagine if (insert your favorite team) had a 21-year-old forward with 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. You’d be pretty excited about that guy, right?

    That’s the season Draisaitl’s currently enjoying. The third overall draft pick in 2014 (yeah, it’s about time the Oilers started to win), he’s scored four goals in his last four games — and no, he doesn’t always get to play with McDavid.

    But the two youngsters have looked good together on special teams, and there have been times when coach Todd McLellan has decided to load up the top line.

    “Leon has no trouble playing the wing. He’s done it before,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Journal. “Sometimes you have a little security there too because Connor and Leon both understand how to play low in the D-zone and the first guy back can assume that position. You also have two centers who can take face-offs as long as you’re not exposed on other lines.”

    Long term, the Oilers would probably like Draisaitl to center his own line. Where he ends up may depend on what they do with Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old center who heard his name plenty in trade rumors as the Oilers tried to shore up their blue line over the summer.

    Though scoring isn’t a huge problem for the Oilers, they could still use an offensive defenseman to help the power play. So far this season, they’ve been making do with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, but adding a real specialist could take their power play from good to great.

    The Oilers may also need to shed some salary at some point. It’s nothing urgent right now, but Draisaitl is a pending restricted free agent and McDavid’s entry-level deal ends after the 2017-18 season. You can imagine what the captain’s second contract might look like.

    Remember that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades, and that June’s expansion draft could be preceded by a number of deals.

    Yes, Chiarelli would have to think long and hard about trading an all-situations player like Nugent-Hopkins, but depending on the return, it might be something he’d consider.

    Related: With McDavid and RNH, where does Draisaitl fit for Oilers?