B/R NHL Roundtable: Staff Picks for the Conn Smythe Trophy

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable: Staff Picks for the Conn Smythe Trophy

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    One player will stand out above the rest after the 2022 NHL playoffs and win the Conn Smythe Trophy. 

    A who's who of the NHL's best has won the award. From Sidney Crosby to Alex Ovechkin to Patrick Kane, the Conn Smythe is given to the player who performs the best throughout the postseason. 

    There's no shortage of candidates to win this year's edition of the award. Could Auston Matthews lead the Maple Leafs to elusive Stanley Cup glory? Will Igor Shesterkin backstop the Rangers to their first Cup since 1994? Or will an unlikely hero lead their team?

    We called together another B/R NHL Roundtable and got our staff picks for the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy. Disagree with our experts? Be sure to join the conversation and leave comments below.  

Cale Makar: Colorado Avalanche

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    Making a pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy almost certainly requires identifying the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup. That would be the Colorado Avalanche, who are arguably the best team in the NHL and have a fairly easy path out of the Western Conference.

    There are a number of great candidates to pick from in Colorado. They are loaded with elite talent. It would be hard to go wrong with any of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, or Nazem Kadri. Among others.

    But the choice here is defenseman Cale Makar. He has all the makings of a Conn Smythe winner. The production is there. His 28 goals and 86 total points during the regular season show he has a propensity for creating offense. He already has three points after one playoff game.

    It's not just the points. Conn Smythe winners aren't players who creep up the stat sheet. A visceral impact is necessary, and Makar has it. He quarterbacks everything the Avalanche do. He skates like the wind, the puck is always on his blade, and he makes magic happen by himself. He'll win races to the puck in his own end and then carry it the length of the ice. His shifts are memorable and he is noticeably involved in everything that happens on the ice.

    He logs crazy minutes, averaging 25:40 during the regular season, and he will undoubtedly stand out if and when the Avalanche endure overtime marathons. 

    There are a number of incredible players in Colorado, but none is more indispensable than Makar. He should be the early favorite to win the Conn Smythe.

    - Adam Herman

Auston Matthews: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Swagger. "It" factor. Cool.

    Whatever you call that intangible thing possessed by the great ones that's difficult to define—other than simply knowing it when you see it—you can be sure of one fact.

    Auston Matthews has it.

    The Toronto forward has set the NHL ablaze from the moment he arrived six years ago, but he raised the stakes this season by becoming just the third player this century to score 60 goals in a season.

    And to say the Maple Leafs needed it would be a multi-generational understatement.

    The franchise hasn't seen a Stanley Cup parade for 55 years, hasn't won a series in 18 years and had a particularly inglorious springtime last year that included a blown 3-1 series lead against Montreal.

    So the team, the organization and the city needed what he provided in 2021-22.

    He was the primary reason they were fourth overall in the regular season, and his three points in Game 1 against two-time champ Tampa Bay illustrate how valuable he'll be in toppling the Lightning.

    There's certainly a lot of ground to cover simply to get that done, not to mention the 12 additional wins that'll be needed as an encore. But it says here that if Toronto is indeed the team to stop the first three-peat since the early 1980s, then it'll also be the one holding the Stanley Cup in June.

    Matthews will make it happen. And the Conn Smythe will be an apt reward for the effort.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons 

Aleksander Barkov: Florida Panthers

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    We don't appreciate Aleksander Barkov nearly enough. 

    Maybe this is because he plays in Sunrise, Florida, in a nondescript arena next to a nondescript mall. Maybe it's because the Florida Panthers have only advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs once in club history, doing so in 1996 when Barkov wasn't even a year old, and have only made seven total postseason appearances. 

    But the Panthers enter this year's tournament as the team to beat. They won the Presidents' Trophy and have arguably the deepest roster in hockey. It's a fun, skilled team and it all starts with Barkov.  

    The Panthers captain finally got some much-earned recognition last season when he was awarded the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, but his skills go far beyond the defensive zone. 

    When he's on the ice, the Panthers control the shot share 60.1 percent of the time. He's playing mostly in the offensive zone and produced nearly 4.0 points per 60 minutes this season (3.88). The effect he has on his teammates is incredible. Take a look at how the numbers change when Barkov isn't on the ice. Aaron Ekblad is an elite defenseman and even his xGF% drops nearly 10 percent when he's on the ice without Barkov. This should show you how well he distributes and how effective the most effective NHL offense is when it's run through Barkov. 

    If fancy stats aren't your thing, then maybe his 39 goals and 49 assists (88 points) will convince you. 

    If the Panthers win the Cup, Barkov will be a centerpiece to their success.

    - Abbey Mastracco

Matthew Tkachuk: Calgary Flames

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    If you look at the Conn Smythe Trophy odds from our friends at DraftKings, Matthew Tkachuk isn't the most likely to win the award. In fact, he doesn't even have the best odds on his own team. That distinction belongs to Johnny Gaudreau, who finished the NHL regular season tied for second in points with 115.

    There is some legitimate concern about whether Johnny Hockey's style of play translates well to the playoffs, though. You know who those concerns do not apply to? Gaudreau's frequent linemate, Tkachuk. They were part of one of the 10 best lines in the NHL this season, with the former using his speed to generate space and the latter generally using his size.

    Power forwards generally see their games remain consistent during the grind of the postseason, which is why the 6'2", 201-pound wing ought to be able to withstand the increased checking and pressure that comes with playing at this time of the year. 

    Tkachuk finished the regular season on an absolute tear, scoring 10 goals and 19 points through Calgary's final 13 contests. That's the kind of momentum that can carry a player into a playoff series and beyond, and the 24-year-old forward looks dialed in as the Flames embark on their quest to win the Stanley Cup.

    Franklin Steele

Igor Shesterkin: New York Rangers

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    As of 2021, goaltenders have won the Conn Smythe Trophy 17 times. It's an illustrious list featuring Hall of Famers such as Glenn Hall, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Billy Smith and Patrick Roy. The Tampa Bay Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy was the most recent winner, taking home the award last year.

    Igor Shesterkin could be the next goalie to achieve that honor. The 26-year-old New York Rangers regular-season MVP has the ability to carry them to a Stanley Cup this year.

    Now in his third NHL season, Shesterkin entered the 2022 postseason with just one playoff game on his resume. However, the 6'1", 189-pounder has established himself as an elite goalie this season.

    His quickness and sharp goaltending instincts make him the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. He led all starting goalies with a 2.07 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, as well as finishing sixth in wins with 36 in 53 games played.

    Critics will suggest Shesterkin's limited playoff experience could be a hindrance to his club's Stanley Cup hopes. However, several inexperienced netminders have won the Smythe Trophy. Dryden, Roy, Ron Hextall, Bill Ranford, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Cam Ward were among the notables to pull it off.

    Shesterkin already acquitted himself well in the Rangers' series opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins, making 79 saves in a 4-3 triple-overtime loss. With goal support from his teammates, he can backstop them to championship glory.

    - Lyle Richardson


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