The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the player judged most valuable to his team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Such names as Bossy, Dryden, Gretzky, Lemieux, Roy, Orr, Sakic, Yzerman have all won the prestigious trophy over the years. The question is then, who will win the Conn Smythe in 2008? Since I'm usually not one for predictions, I think the Conn Smythe winner will depend on which team actually wins Lord Stanley's Cup. So, here is my team-by-team breakdown of potential Conn Smythe candidates.
Montreal Canadiens:If the Habs were to win their 24th Stanley Cup this season, I look for Alex Kovalev to be the biggest reason why. With uncertainty surrounding the health status of captain Sakku Koivu, Kovalev will be expected to carry the load. Finishing the regular season with 35 goals and 84 points, Kovalev is a candidate to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, and I look for him to continue to rack up the points in the post season.
Boston Bruins: If Tim Thomas can withstand the potent Montreal offense in the first round, and the B's can stay out of the penalty box, I look for Thomas to have a serious impact in determining how far the Bruins can go.
Washington Capitals:This one's a no-brainer. Alex Ovechkin has had a career season, and has been the biggest reason that the Caps were able to overtake their Southeast Division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes, and secure the #3 seed in the playoffs. If AO continues to fill up the net with the consistency that he did during the regular season, the winger might just have to make some extra room in his trophy case for the Conn Smythe.
Philadelphia Flyers:While the Flyers may be a longshot to win the Cup, never say never. If they can contain Ovechkin in the first round, it may just give them enough confidence to be a serious contender. R.J. Umberger finished the season 3rd on the team with 50 points, and looks like he is blossoming into a solid two-way forward. If Umberger can continue to play well defensively, and find the net in the clutch, he could be the man that makes the Flyers' Cinderella Story come true.
Pittsburgh Penguins:The Penguins' high powered offense seems to be garnering all the attention lately. But, their 23 year old goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, will be the key to this team's success. If Fleury performs the way he has since returning from a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for over three months of the season, this bad MAFer could pull a Cam Ward and carry his team to the Cup, and add his name to the list of Conn Smythe winners.
Ottawa Senators:With Daniel Alfredsson being out of the lineup for an uncertain period of time, Danny Heatley will have to take his game to a new level. The Sens' winger has to utilize his wicked shot, especially on the powerplay, if the defending Eastern Conference Champions stand any chance of getting out of the first round alive.
New Jersey Devils:The Devils gameplan will never change as long as Martin Brodeur is manning the net. Get an early lead, play solid defense, dump-and-chase, and never let your opponent recover from an early mistake. Marty has continued to impress this season, and looks to have the Devils' playoffs hopes resting on his shoulders... again.
New York Rangers:Scott Gomez, one of the Rangers' big offseason acquisitions, got off to a slow start, but finally elevated his game down the stretch for the Blueshirts. If Gomez can continue to score goals, and use his great vision and passing ability to make everyone around him better, look for him to hoist the Conn Symthe in June.
Detroit Red Wings:Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk finished the regular season with 97 points for the President Trophy winning Red Wings. The Red Wings seem to have the most favorable matchup of any first round team, and if Datsyuk has anything to do with it, it will be a short road to the second round. After that, if the Wings can continue to dominate the opposition like they have all season long, Datsyuk should be at the front of the pack for Conn Smythe consideration.
Nashville Predators:The Predators are the underdogs of the Western Conference. Alexander Radulov posted career highs in goals and points this season, and could continue to fly under the radar if the Preds make a run at the Cup.
Minnesota Wild: Wild star Marian Gaborik needs to be just that, a star. If Gaborik can get some help from teammate Brian Rolston, he should fill up the net fairly frequently. If Gaborik played for the Red Wings, he would have scored 52 goals this season instead of 42.
Colorado Avalanche: What can be said about Joe Sakic that hasn't been said a hundred times already? This veteran continues to lead by example, and with the re-aquisition of Foote and Forsberg, Sakic could put up some serious numbers this post season.
San Jose Sharks:Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov played in a league high 77 games for the Sharks this season, and if he continues to be reliable between the pipes, he could carry the Sharks to the finals. Leading the league in wins (46), Nabokov also posted an impressive 2.14 GAA during the regular season.
Calgary Flames: Captain Jarome Iginla is the big gunner for the Flames, but Alex Tanguay is my X-factor. Tanguay failed to surpass the 20 goal mark this season, but is a proven playoff performer. He won the Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, scoring 21 points in 23 games.
Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne has registered 23 points in 26 games since returning to the Ducks' lineup in early February. If Teemu can stay hot throughout the playoffs, the Ducks have a legitimate shot at making it to the finals for the second year in a row.
Dallas Stars:It is going to take a complete team effort for the Stars to avenge their first round exit from the post season last year. An exit in which goaltender Marty Turco was phenomenal, posting a .952 save percentage and a 1.30 GAA. But Turco is going to need some help up front. If the Stars win the cup, LW Niklas Hagman is my pick for the Conn Smythe. Hagman scored a career high 27 goals this season, and is a dynamic forward.
So there you have it, my team-by-team picks for the Conn Smythe trophy winner. Regardless of which team has their names engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup, one thing is certain: the playoffs are where great players become heroes, and heroes become legends.