Conn Smythe Trophy Candidates in '08 Race

Eric MacLachlanCorrespondent IMay 20, 2008

At the start of the playoffs there was a Conn Smythe Prediction contest. I did the same thing with my buddies.

Joe Thornton was first off the board. Zetterberg was next followed by Crosby, Malkin, and Datsyuk. My pick was last. As I did here, I took Marc-Andre Fleury. They all laughed, which I found weird. I was told, even if the Pens win, their offence will cast a shadow over their goal-tending. 

Well, lets examine my chances of winning the prize, if Pittsburgh were to win. 

Sidney Crosby has 21 points, 17 of which are assists. Even with him being second in playoff scoring to the aforementioned Zetterberg—who is the clear-cut winner should Detroit knock the Penguins off—Crosby has been the focus of some criticism. He only has four goals, and although he has primarily been a playmaker since joining Pittsburgh, people expect him to score the big goals.

In the 2006-2007 season—in which Crosby won the Hart, Art Ross and Lester Pearson—he only scored 36 goals, along with 84 assists for 120 points. 84 assists is the number of a playmaker more then a goal scorer. Granted 36, goals is a very nice number for a playmaker—but he is a play-maker.

Crosby said he is comfortable being a playmaker as long as his team wins. He should get real comfortable, because he is the best in the game.

Malkin has 19 points in the playoffs, nine of which are goals, and three of which are game-winning goals. Malkin has not been the Malkin who dominated the regular season during Crosby's injury, but rather the Malkin who is playing second fiddle to Crosby and spearheading the most dangerous second line in the league.

Malkin is always dangerous when he is on the ice—and believe me when I say he is the sniper on this team. 47 goals this year back that statement up—but I still think, unless his play improves exponentially, he is still number two behind Crosby, among the forwards for the Conn Smythe. 

Now for Marc-Andre Fleury, my pick. It is very rare a team wins the Stanley Cup with anything less then great goaltending. In fact, the last time I can think of that happening was the team Pittsburgh is playing, with the very same goaltender leading the charge.

Fleury has three shut outs, a 1.70 GAA, and a .938 save percentage. Opponents are averaging 28 shots per game against him. Fleury has had one or two easy nights, but for a guy who has taken so much flak as an NHLer, he has been great throughout the playoffs.

There have been very few weak goals, plus he has made big saves at key times in games, and has also made a few spectacular saves to preserve leads at big times.  Everyone raves about Pittsburgh's offence, but their goaltending has been as good as or better then their offence. 

If Pittsburgh wins, who gets the Conn Smythe? I won't guarentee Fleury because you can never tell before the announcement—but I will say Fleury is right in there.