Who's the Kings' Conn Smythe Favorite with the 2014 Stanley Cup in Sight?
At this point, with potentially just one more game remaining in the 2014 NHL playoffs, about the only thing you can be fairly certain of in contention for the Conn Smythe Trophy is that it will be a member of the Los Angeles Kings taking it home.
With a win on Wednesday, the Kings can sweep the Stanley Cup final.
No fewer than three members of the Western Conference champions are running neck and neck (and neck) at the forefront, but you could argue the case for at least a couple more for consideration—maybe even a half-dozen if you overlook some statistics in favor of stellar play in the finals.
For those who love to look at the numbers, there are plenty of candidates. You’ve got the points leader, the goal-scoring guru, a couple of savvy veterans and the ultimate defenseman all in the mix.
They each bring something different to the table and have helped the Kings overcome massive obstacles.
Click ahead to see where they fall heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
6. Jonathan Quick
The Kings netminder probably isn’t going to win anyone over at this point in the playoffs. Jonathan Quick’s save percentage is a meager .910. Prior to the Stanley Cup final, it was .906.
After a 32-save shutout in Game 3, though, his mark in the title series jumped to .938. He made key saves to keep momentum in the Kings’ favor in a big swing game.
If you ignore, or at least suspend, the idea of his underwhelming stats through most of the playoffs and just look at the highlight-reel saves he made in big moments—like the glove grab on Patrick Marleau with the Kings facing elimination in the first round—Quick has been clutch when it counts.
Still, he’s not likely to earn more than a couple of votes from those who either go with the playoff point leader or winning goaltender.
Fellow Bleacher Report writer Jonathan Willis is one of those who pointed out Quick’s inconsistency this spring: "Quick was brilliant tonight; absolutely dynamite. But let's not retroactively pretend he's been like this all postseason."
5. Marian Gaborik
Showing chemistry with Anze Kopitar, Slovak Marian Gaborik is the playoff goal-scoring leader with 13 through 24 games. He hasn’t gone more than three games without a goal throughout the playoffs and has racked up 21 points to sit fourth in points behind teammates Kopitar, Justin Williams and Jeff Carter.
Gaborik has proved to be exactly the trade-deadline addition the Kings needed to make a strong push through the playoffs. The pending unrestricted free agent will be cashing in this summer as a result, and a Conn Smythe Trophy would only add to his value on the open market. He still impresses his Kings teammates a couple of short months after arriving from Columbus on trade deadline day.
Working against Gaborik is the star power of his own center—arguably the best two-way player in these playoffs—and the less consistent but more flashy and well-rounded performances by a couple of veteran teammates who have snagged the spotlight more recently with big contributions.
He could easily work his way back into the top group with a big Game 4.
One of the favorites compares Gaborik to an artistic genius, according to a tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: "More Justin Williams wisdom. Asking Marian Gaborik for scoring tips is like 'asking Mozart to teach you piano. It doesn't really work.'"
That’s quite a comparison. Then again, Gaborik is just two goals shy of tying Wayne Gretzky’s franchise mark of 15 goals for the Kings in the 1993 playoffs (sorry, Toronto Maple Leafs fans, for the fresh reminder of that one).
4. Jeff Carter
In case you haven’t checked the scoring leaders lately, you’ll find Jeff Carter tucked neatly behind Anze Kopitar with 24 points in 24 games.
The former Philadelphia Flyers stud has had some dramatic performances in these playoffs, including seven points in two games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final—which included a hat trick in Game 2.
Carter hasn’t gone more than two games without a point this spring and is second to Gaborik in goals with 10.
Flanked by a couple of kids in Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, Carter has thrived back in the center position.
His buzzer-beater at the end of the first period in Game 3 turned out to be his first game-winner of the playoffs, but it wasn’t his first big goal. He’s also made his mark on the power play with a team-high four tallies with the man advantage.
3. Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar will be many voters' go-to choice if he stays atop the playoff scoring race.
His five goals and 21 assists are tops through the first three games of the Stanley Cup final, and his helper total is just four short of Wayne Gretzky's franchise record in a single playoff season. The Great One earned 25 of them in 1993.
But Kopitar is more than just an offensive star. The Selke Trophy finalist has had his share of shut-down assignments through the postseason and handled them extremely well. He got the better of Jonathan Toews in the Western Conference final, and Ryan Getzlaf in the second round. There's a reason top Rangers centers Brad Richards and Derek Stepan aren't getting much action around the net in the Cup final.
Kopitar is finally getting the global attention he deserves as one of the top players in the game. Gretzky went as far as calling him the third best in the NHL recently, behind Sidney Crosby and Toews, via Mike Brophy of CBC.ca:
Anze Kopitar is the key guy. He plays against the best players; he takes faceoffs; they utilize him in the last minute of the hockey game. Whether they are up or down a goal he is going to be the guy out there to kill a five-on-three. He is a young man who just gets better every year and I can't say enough good things about what he has done with his career especially in these playoffs. He went 10 games in a row with a point in every game against two really good hockey clubs; San Jose and Anaheim. To me that is something we need to recognize. He plays hard every game and he plays properly. The two best players who never cheated the game that I saw play were Mark Messier and Bryan Trottier. By that I mean they never circled; never turned away. They stopped and started. To me that is how Anze plays. He plays with a great deal of passion and to me he is the leader of that hockey club game in and game out.
2. Justin Williams
The veteran winger has extended his dominance from Game 7s to Stanley Cup final series as well. With a goal and six points in the three games against the New York Rangers, Justin Williams has been the Kings’ biggest offensive weapon in the finals and has eight goals and 24 points through 24 games. He’s leaped past Anze Kopitar as the Conn Smythe front-runner from the Kings forward ranks.
His two game-winning goals include an overtime clincher in Game 1 of the final series to get the Kings off on the right foot.
You know Williams is a front-runner when he’s being asked about it by the media. He told Lisa Dillman of the Chicago Tribune that he’s honored but more focused on the Stanley Cup:
That's an award that a lot of NHLers obviously aspire to have. But at the same time when you're presented with it, I think a lot of guys just want to put it aside and look to the big jug. That's pretty much how I can explain it. To be even mentioned with these big guys in that conversation is awesome. But, hey, the big one is what matters. Yeah, I want to taste it again.
Regardless of how he feels about it, he's sure to get some serious consideration.
1. Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty is the top scoring defenseman with 17 points in 24 games. His lone goal in the Cup final so far was a beauty, but he’s been more of a defensive force in the series so far.
He’s averaging more than 28 minutes in the postseason and playing against the opposition's top stars.
But the reason he gets my imaginary vote for the Conn Smythe Trophy is his leadership. And although he sometimes has a little difficulty controlling his own emotions, Doughty is undoubtedly the emotional leader for the Kings, who follow his example on the ice.
Even players not currently playing want to follow him. Count Colby Armstrong among them: “Doughty is unreal. End of Story. Love him,” he tweeted.
Get in line. Despite not making it as a finalist for the Norris Trophy, Doughty is getting a lot of love these days. Another strong performance in Game 4 could lock up MVP honors for him.
All statistics from NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
Steve Macfarlane has covered the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons with the Calgary Sun. Follow him on Twitter @macfarlaneHKY.