2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Handicapping the Conn Smythe After Five Games
In the middle of the Stanley Cup Finals, I looked at a few front-runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy. At that time (after three games), I listed Antti Niemi as the top choice, followed by a handful of players from both teams, including Chris Pronger, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa.
Then, Game Five happened.
Now we're looking at a championship round in which one goalie has a goals against average in the mid-3s and the other hasn't seen the third period in 40 percent of the games.
And Pronger, who may have done the engraving himself during the two games in Philadelphia, played, arguably, the worst postseason game of his career in Chicago on Sunday night.
Let's look at how the top of the list stacks up after five games of the Finals.
9. Antti Niemi
He's now 15-6 with a 2.62 goals against average and a .911 save percentage in a postseason in which he was supposed to be the Blackhawks' Achilles' heel.
Niemi slides from the top of the list, however, because he hasn't been overwhelming in the Finals. He was special in the third period of Game Two, but wasn't much in Philadelphia in Three and Four.
After dominating two of the top five offenses in the NHL this year in Vancouver and San Jose, Niemi has put up average numbers against Philadelphia. He has allowed 18 goals in five games, including an overtime loss on the road, and slides from the top spot to ninth in the latest rankings.
8. Scott Hartnell
Hartnell has been an absolute beast in the Finals on the most effective line the Flyers have thrown at the Blackhawks.
In the Finals, Hartnell has seven points, including two power play goals. His biggest value throughout the playoffs has been as a thorn in the side of anyone that takes a play off; if Hartnell is on the ice, you better pay attention.
7. Dustin Byfuglien
"Big Buff" started to hear that he was an elite power forward after almost personally owning both Vancouver and San Jose in the two rounds leading into the Finals.
Then, he met Chris Pronger.
Byfuglien was a non-factor for four games, but then, he came on strong with a monster performance in Game Five that may define his career. He wrecked Pronger with two huge hits, one of which "made history," and had four points in the game.
He leads the entire NHL this postseason with five game-winning goals and is tied for the Blackhawks' lead with 10 goals in the playoffs.
Maybe the most impressive stat from Byfuglien in the playoffs is his NHL-leading 93 hits, 16 more than teammate Brent Seabrook at second overall. He has still only been called for 20 penalty minutes despite being the most physical player in the postseason.
6. Danny Briere
Briere is now second overall in postseason scoring, only one point behind Jonathan Toews, and has been effective all over the ice in the Finals.
In only five Finals games, he already has nine points and leads the Flyers in postseason goals (11), assists (16), and game-winning goals (four).
5. Chris Pronger
I'm not sure anyone has been so hated in Chicago since Bartman, or perhaps Bill Laimbeer, as Pronger has become in just five games.
But there's a reason he's the villain: he loves the role.
Pronger teases the media and taunts fans as well as anyone since Dennis Rodman, but, just as Rodman did, brings an unquestioned quality to the defensive end every night. Indeed, until Game Five, he may have been the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe.
However, Game Five can't be ignored until after the Stanley Cup finds a home, and because of his minus-five performance in the biggest game of the year for the Flyers, Pronger slides to fifth on the list.
4. Patrick Sharp
You won't hear his name very often when there are guys like Kane, Hossa, Toews, Keith, Seabrook and Campbell around, but Sharp has been, perhaps, Chicago's most valuable player in the Finals.
He's tied with Byfuglien for the Blackhawks lead with 10 goals, and has added 11 assists and is plus-seven in the postseason. In the Finals, Sharp has five points and is plus-four through five games.
Sharp has been consistent in faceoffs, sound defensively, and has scored a number of key goals for the Blackhawks in the postseason. He's underrated, but will kill you slowly if left unattended.
Oh, and he's a former Flyer.
3. Ville Leino
In many parts of Chicago, he's known as "Villain Leino."
In Detroit, he's known as "the guy we traded for... what?"
Leino has broken almost every Philadelphia rookie record for a single postseason and has been, arguably, the most effective scorer for the Flyers in the Finals. After posting 11 points in 55 regular season games, Leino now has 19 points in only 18 postseason games. He also leads the Flyers with a plus-eight rating.
2. Duncan Keith
In case you hadn't heard, Keith is playing without seven of his front teeth in the Finals.
The Norris Trophy Finalist is leading the Blackhawks, averaging 28:04 on the ice in the playoffs and has been as solid as any defender in the game. He's contributed 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) and five power play assists in the postseason.
1. Jonathan Toews
Yes, Toews has struggled to put points on the board in the Finals. I get that.
But the Conn Smythe is the award given to the most outstanding player in the entire postseason, not just the Finals. So while the Finals certainly can elevate a player to elite status (see Leino), the award isn't limited to one series.
And to say Toews has been a disappointment in the Finals would indicate you're either stupid or haven't been watching the games.
Toews has been a master in the faceoff circle. Only Mike Richards of the Flyers has seen more faceoffs (439) than Toews (435), but Toews' 60.0 percent in the circle dwarfs Richards' 46.9 percent. In the Finals, Toews is winning 65.3 percent of his opportunities at the dot.
Oh, and he still leads the NHL in postseason scoring, even without having an overwhelming Finals on the score sheet.