Ranking the Players Most Likely to Contend for the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy
The NHL's marathon playoff season is just around the corner. The league boasts a half-dozen powerhouse clubs and a few dark horses who are poised to win it all.
Every team in contention has several players who are strong candidates to impact the postseason. These men are the best at their position and play big minutes and the toughest opposition. When the Stanley Cup is won, their names will be considered for the most valuable playoff contributor.
Here are the 10 players who are most likely to contend for this year's Conn Smythe Trophy.
10. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens
His Performance This Season: Carey Price is playing very well this season, and his save percentage ranks among the league's best. He backstopped Team Canada to the gold medal at the Olympics and should be confident entering the playoffs.
His Importance to the Team: The Montreal Canadiens have a quality goaltending tandem heading into the postseason, with Price being clearly superior to his capable backup Peter Budaj.
How Far Can They Go? The Canadiens will be underdogs in every series after the first one (likely against Tampa Bay). Their only chance to win it all is with a hot goaltender and a lot of luck. It's happened before, and Price is excelling.
9. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers
His Performance This Season: Claude Giroux began the season slowly, starting 11 GP, 0-6-6 before turning it around and posting 68 GP, 27-48-75 since the beginning of November.
His Importance to the Team: The Philadelphia Flyers rely on their best skill player. When Giroux was struggling, the team struggled along with him. When he got hot, the team caught fire.
How Far Can They Go? The Flyers are fortunate in that the Eastern Conference is wide open this season. If they get on a roll, they could go deep. Goals will be at a premium, and if Philadelphia is scoring, you can bet Giroux will be in the middle of it.
8. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks
His Performance This Season: Jonathan Toews is having another strong season, playing important minutes for the Chicago Blackhawks. This is his best offensive season since 2010-11. Toews and the 'Hawks got thrown a curveball with a late season injury. Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune suggests the injury—apparently to his left arm—should not keep him out of the playoffs.
His Importance to the Team: He is a splendid captain, probably the best in the game. An intense competitor, he led Chicago to Stanley Cup victories in 2010 and 2013. He is building a legacy as a winner.
How Far Can They Go? The 'Hawks have proved they can go all the way, but NHL teams don't repeat often in the modern era. Toews thrives on challenges and could lead his team to victory this spring.
7. Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose Sharks
His Performance This Season: Joe Pavelski exploded this season, scoring 39 goals and playing a complete game for the San Jose Sharks. When injuries hit the team, he stepped up, adjusted his role and found another gear.
His Importance to the Team: His ability to play a wide variety of roles gives the team all kinds of options. He can center a complementary line or move up and score goals with the big boys.
How Far Can They Go? This may be the best team ever put together in San Jose, and with an aging roster, it could be the Sharks' last chance. Pavelski's emergence as an impact scorer gives them a lot of firepower as they enter the playoffs, and he'll play a major role in their success.
6. Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers
His Performance This Season: Henrik Lundqvist is enjoying another strong season for the New York Rangers. His month-by-month performances show some trouble in October and December, but he is finishing strong.
His Importance to the Team: Lundqvist and backup Cam Talbot form one of the top goaltending tandems in the NHL.
How Far Can They Go? The Rangers are an emerging team and could be the surprise of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Lundqvist is their rock, and his ability to stop the puck is a major part of the team's success.
5. Brad Marchand, C, Boston Bruins
His Performance This Season: Brad Marchand is enjoying another strong season as the Boston Bruins' resident skilled agitator.
His Importance to the Team: His offense is often overlooked because he is not a major part of the power play, but Marchand at even strength is a quality player. His ability to get the other team off their game is legendary and has significant value. He is a tough guy to play against every night.
How Far Can They Go? The Boston Bruins look poised for a long run and should be considered strong contenders. Special teams is important, but those even-strength goals are vital. If the Bruins win it all, Marchand and his varied skills will no doubt be in the middle of the action.
4. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim Ducks
His Performance This Season: Ryan Getzlaf is healthy and delivering in all areas this season, and his offense is close to a career best.
His Importance to the Team: He is a big, strong center who can play heavy minutes and outscore the best opposition. He draws the tough assignments, which means other Anaheim Ducks have an easier time.
How Far Can They Go? The Ducks are enjoying a dream season in 2013-14. They could win the President's Trophy for most points by a team during the regular season and may win the Stanley Cup. Getzlaf is their key player.
3. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
His Performance This Season: Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game. He provides the Pittsburgh Penguins with effective two-way play and is winning the scoring championship by a significant margin.
His Importance to the Team: Crosby is the biggest difference-maker in the game. His career is blemished only by injury. When healthy, he's the best.
How Far Can They Go? The Penguins have injury worries. Evgeni Malkin has a concerning foot issue, but Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review suggests there is progress. If Malkin returns to his established levels, the Penguins should go deep. Crosby will be the best player on the ice in every game.
2. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings
His Performance This Season: Drew Doughty is having another strong year with the Los Angeles Kings. He is among the NHL leaders in ice time per game and plays in all three disciplines.
His Importance to the Team: He is a complete defenseman and an absolute load for opposition forwards. He is physical and skilled and plays against the other team's best players.
How Far Can They Go? The Kings look as nasty as ever this spring and are the league's best defensive team. Defense wins championships, and Los Angeles has a very good chance to win it all. Doughty is the team's key defensive player.
1. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
His Importance to the Team: He's the ideal modern-day defender who is able to play the defensive game while also moving the puck expertly. Those abilities are important at both ends of the ice and give St. Louis a big advantage.
How Far Can They Go? This might be the best Blues team in history. They are a strong contender, and Pietrangelo is central to their chances of winning it all.