And The Conn Smythe Trophy goes to... no I'm not going to attempt to insist that anyone but Henrik Zetterberg should have received the MVP of the Playoffs. No player since perhaps Joe Nieuwendyk of the 1999 Dallas Stars better represented a 2-way playing recipient of this award. Zetterberg routinely scored clutch goals, shut down the opposition's top line, and was just plain consistently effective every game he played. As I was watching games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I came to realize that I would be upset if he did not win it.
However, there are many who played just as hard every shift, and may not have shown up on the score sheet but were certainly effective in other ways, and they have perhaps gone unnoticed; definitely much more unnoticed than Zetterberg. The following is my list for the top 10 best un-exalted players of the 2008 NHL playoffs- that is, players that had a huge impact on their teams' success but did not receive much- or enough recognition.
10. Jeremy Roenick
As a Kings fan, I cringe when I hear this guy's name. I am pretty sure that in Los Angeles, hockey was just below golf on his priority scale. So as much as I hate to put this guy on this list, it can't be denied that his presence was a factor for the Sharks. For most of this season he was a role player, that is, a third or fourth line forward. He scored 14 goals this season- 10 of which were game winners. That is a ridiculous statistic. He was a healthy scratch in game 6 of the series vs. the Calgary Flames in a 2-0 loss. He would dress for game 7 to score 2 goals and 2 assists and lead the way for the Sharks to put away the Flames, 5-3.
9. Brooks Laich
Unfortunately for the NHL, the Capitals did not make it out of the first round. Not to say that nobody likes the Flyers or that they are not exciting to watch, but they don't have Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin did win the Hart Memorial Trophy this year, so naturally he is the MVP of his team. But goal scorers are nothing without play-makers, and neither of those get the puck as often without grinders like Brooks Laich. This guy was all over the place during this series- I watched a play where he hit both defencemen trying to break the puck out of their own zone, on the same shift. He made all the little plays as well as big ones, scoring 6 points in the 7 game series, which is impressive considering he probably played on all four lines at some point. He also finished the series with 10 hits and a +2. These are the types of guys that never get traded and for good reason.
8. Max Talbot
The Pittsburgh Brooks Laich counterpart; if Washington had gone as far as the Pens I'd have to put Laich closer to #1, but since it was Pittsburgh in the Finals, here's Maxime Talbot. Talbot was another guy that rotated throughout the lines, though most everyone in Pittsburgh did in the Finals while coach Michel Therrien tried to find the answer to Detroit's match-ups, but he was a force on every shift no matter who he was lined up with. He was the first forechecker in deep every time, and unlike some of the young Pens players, was always smart with the puck. Most significantly, in the Stanley Cup Finals, he scored the game tying goal with 34 seconds left in Game 5 to send it into OT where Sykora would win it. Max was on the ice with the regular power play unit, and normally doesn't see that much P.P. time with puck poppers like Crosby, Malkin & Hossa on the team- but that tells you just how effective coach Therrien thought that his play had been during the series.
7. Stephane Robidas
In game 5 of the opening round series vs the Anaheim Ducks, Robidas took a puck to the face that broke his nose. No problem, that's what face cages are for. He got stitched up and finished the game. He would wear the face cage throughout the rest of the playoffs and may have to do so for the rest of his career. Robidas scored 26 points in all 82 games this regular season- in the playoffs he notched 11 points in just 18 games, including perhaps the two most significant assists of the 2nd round series triumph over San Jose: in Game 1 the OT setup to Morrow, and in what was up to this point in the season the most entertaining game of the 2008 NHL campaign, the pass to setup the OT winner in game 6. Oh by the way he is a defenceman! He was forced to step up early in the playoff run with Zubov out with an injury, and did just that.
6. R.J. Umberger
Either John Stevens is some kind of sorcerer or Daniel Briere has a magic potion, but out of nowhere this year the Flyers produced a crop of young talent surpassed by only a few. A guy by the name of Mike Richards went un drafted in all 3 fantasy hockey leagues i participated in this year, and I'd be surprised if he was drafted in ANY league with 12 teams or less. Fact: this guy is now a superstar. Jeff Carter also came out of nowhere and proved to be not only an effective role player but one hell of a goal scorer. Braydon Coburn handled himself like a veteran during Kimmo Timmonen's absence in the playoffs and was solid all year. But no one stepped up more than R.J. Umberger for the Flyers in the postseason run. He led all Flyers in goals with 10, which is amazing considering that job was mainly designated to Briere, Richards, and new blood Vaclav Prospal; and also led in plus/minus with a +7. ** I started writing this article before he got traded to Columbus, and the line here was supposed to read, "This is a guy that will get resigned." I was wrong. Apparently they thought Jeff Carter was worth 5 mil a year, which is a tad generous I think, but if this article were about the regular season instead of the playoffs, rest assured Carter would be here instead.
5. Johan Franzen
I remember asking someone midway through the Detroit vs. Colorado series this question, "Is Johan Franzen serious?" His torrid goal scoring pace in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs was not unprecedented, but he, for the most part, was unheard of. "The Mule" was certainly putting in more than his fair share of work. 11 goals through the first two series? Wow. Perhaps he had been going unnoticed only because his line took a back seat to the most effective line in the NHL in Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom. He displayed as much toughness, puck-handling skill, and puck finding ability as anyone else in the playoffs and is a big reason why Lord Stanley's Cup currently resides in Motor City.
4. Brooks Orpik
The average hockey fan may still not know who Brooks Orpik is, even though he is a member of the Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. But avid hockey fans that watched every game of the Finals are now in love with this guy. Here's your statistic: 40 HITS in the Finals. 11 in Game 6. He can hit, and he loves to do so. His style of play is an invaluable tool to wear down opposing forwards, and he and Gonchar were the two bright spots on Pittsburgh's sometimes questionable blue line.
3. Marian Hossa
If somehow Pittsburgh had pulled off a victory against Detroit, Marian Hossa would have been my choice for the Conn Smythe. Early this season on the Atlanta Thrashers, he had clearly lost that competitive edge. It was not fully revived until the Cup Finals, and I think he took it to the next level. Many analysts have asserted that Pittsburgh gave up too much to acquire the winger from Atlanta, and up until the series vs. Detroit I agreed. But someone in Detroit poisoned Geno Malkin's slapshot, and every time Sid touched the puck he was immediately greeted by 2 Swedes at a minimum. Marian Hossa did everything to try to pick up the goal scoring slack in Pittsburgh at both ends of the ice. He was everywhere. He truly took the bull by the horns in Game 3 vs. Detroit and initiated the series comeback attempt. If Pittsburgh doesn't re-sign him, or perhaps even if they do, he will become one of the top 10 highest paid players in the NHL next season.
2. Brendan Morrow
This article could have been called, "The Top 10 Brendan Morrow's of the Playoffs." Traditionally there are 3 types of players you build a hockey franchise around: a Vezina caliber goaltender, a Norris caliber defenceman, or an Art Ross Caliber forward. In my mind, you could also build a franchise around a Brendan Morrow. OK so what the hell is a Brendan Morrow already? The quick cliche answer is someone that does it all. How many time have you heard that? But he is the epitome of doing it all- checking, skating, play making, goal scoring. But he takes everything a step further: hitting the key players, skating hard on EVERY shift, and setting up and scoring clutch goals. But even more than just that he has that intangible that is so often discussed but still so rare. I hate to be so bold as to compare Brendan Morrow to Mark Messier, but I can't think of any better words. I know that Morrow has not achieved what Messier has, but in attempting to define that intangible quality that he possesses I think the comparison is accurate.
1. Chris Osgood
This one is kind of a no brainer. Osgood quietly sat behind the bench and watched as Dominic Hasek started in net for the first two games of Detroit's 2008 playoff run after he posted a 27-9-4 regular season record with a grossly low 2.09 goals against average in the regular season. He would step in in each of those games after sub par performances from Hasek, and be asked to take over starting in game three. His performance can only be described as unwaveringly solid. Osgood pitched a shutout in games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals as Pittsburgh struggled to find holes in the Detroit defense. Even as they succeeded mildly in that regard, Osgood was there most of the time, and Zetterberg stepped up to keep Crosby at bay. Looking at the series as a whole, if games 5 and 6 were switched out with games 1 and 2, I think it is possible that Osgood's name would be on the Conn Smythe Trophy. More importantly, his humility throughout the season and the playoffs was unrivaled; and his example of stepping up when your name is called should go down as the reference for all athletes in any sport.