It's official. The President's Trophy winners have lived up their potential and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history. However, what remains uncertain is whether the team has a legitimate Conne Smythe Trophy candidate.
After round 1 of the playoffs no one really know who was the most valuable player for the team. Ryan Kesler got some talk for supposedly shutting down Jonathan Toews. I didn't see it that way though. Kesler had a great game 7 and subpar round overall. He was a non-factor on the scoresheet. He might be a Selke finalist, but when you score 40+ goals in the regular season, that same kind of two-way play is expected in the playoffs. "Shutting down" Toews was overblown and exaggerated.
How about Roberto Luongo? It's tough to give him the nod for round 1 given the fact that he was pulled twice and sat down for game 6. He did play well in game 7 and in the first 3 wins though.
The Sedins? They were ok in round 1, but a far cry from their regular season form. The entire team took a vacation in games 4 and 5.
No other player really stood out vs Chicago. A lot of role players and defensemen chipped in with offense and the team barely did enough to avoid an epic collapse.
The Nashville series was a completely different story. Luongo played much more relaxed and confident. The team bought into a patient defensive approach and let their depth ultimately win the round. A standout member of that depth was Kesler. He had a monster series and emerged as the runaway Conne Smythe candidate not just for the Canucks, but for the entire league.
His performance was nothing short of remarkable. He had double digit points, was great in the faceoff circle, and dominated defensively and physically.
But where were the Sedins? Many people were asking whether they were playoff duds or not. Some pointed to Henrik's mysterious ailment. And others chalked it up to great defensive play by Nashville.
So how surprising was it that the San Jose Sharks series would bring about a complete role reversal for these guys?
The Sedins magically woke up and showed the NHL why they are back-to-back Hart Trophy candidates (and likely winners). Henrik Sedin benefited from the extra rest and went to work in a major way. Daniel Sedin wasn't too far behind with a lot of great play of his own.
Meanwhile, Mr Everything himself Ryan Kesler disappeared. Yes he was good in faceoffs and continued to lay the body, but in most games he was a non-factor offensively and just a shadow of his former self.
Instead, the entire 3rd line stepped up as the crucial depth guys and the defensive chipped in with a lot of production.
So where does that leave us? Does this team have a legitimate Conne Smythe candidate or will the honor go to someone in the Eastern Conference regardless of who wins the finals?
Personally, the contenders come down to four players--Kesler, Henrik, Edler, and Luongo.
Each of them have been the most valuable to the club at different times throughout the playoffs.
When Kesler isn't busy embellishing and diving all over the ice he is busy leading the team in faceoff winning percentage by a fair margin, is among the leaders in hits, plays monster minutes on the power play and the penalty kill, and boasts the best giveaway takeaway ratio on the team (6:22). Hurting him is the fact that he only had 1 good offensive series so far.
Like Kesler, Henrik Sedin dominated 1 series out of the 3, but he still chipped in points along the way. He has also played a very responsible game with a good giveaway/takeaway ratio (8:16). It also doesn't hurt to be leading the playoffs in points.
Luongo had shown flashes of brilliance throughout the playoffs. He's been a difference maker in many key games this post-season. At the same time, he's been less than stellar in a fair share of games too. Overall he's been good, but he hasn't been the elite force that most of us have expected.
Lastly, we have Alexander Edler. I'm not a Canucks fan, but I'm a big fan of Edler's. He plays a very underrated game and has been the best Canucks defender throughout the playoffs. With all due respect to Bieksa, Edler leads the team in blocked shots, has the best giveaway/takeaway ratio among defensemen, plays significant minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill, and consistently lays out brutal hits all over the ice.
All of this and he's put up 9 points on the scoreboard. If anything, Edler has been the most consistent player over the course of all three rounds.
Any one of these players could become the clear-cut Conne Smythe Trophy candidate if they have a great finals. It's also entirely possible that none of these four standout and the team wins with another collective effort.
It's a credit to the impeccable depth that the Vancouver Canucks have that they can advance this far without a main star carrying them most of the way.
The one thing we know for sure is that it will be a compelling sub-plot. The Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup. They've reached the finals twice and came up short both times. Are they on the verge of another failure, or will one of the aforementioned players step up and lead the team to victory for the first time?
What say you?