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Conn Smythe Trophy Recipient Still Up in the Air

Mark RitterSenior Writer IJune 3, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Danny Briere #48 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal in the first period against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Has there ever been a more confusing playoff than this year's edition when it comes to picking a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite?

The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded each postseason to the player deemed most valuable to his team during the playoffs. Let’s face it folks, given the solid play from both the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers players, the battle for the Conn Smythe is far from over, in fact, it may be just beginning.

When the Stanley Cup Finals commenced there were really only two clear-cut favorites to win the Conn Smythe—Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews.

Through three games, a number of other candidates have crept into the Conn Smythe picture, including Flyers forward Danny Briere, Hawks goaltender Antti Niemi, and Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith.

If I were choosing the Conn Smythe winner today I would probably vote for Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi—who all but stood on his head in the third period of Games Two and Three (Flyers outshot the Hawks 15-4 in the third period of both games) and has accumulated an impressive record of 14-5, with a 2.48 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.

Clearly, not all of the credit can be thrown at Niemi when it comes to the stellar job the Hawks have done keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith has been instrumental in keeping opposing forwards at bay and has been a catalyst offensively for the Hawks.

Keith, who averages nearly 28 minutes a game in ice time, has amassed two goals and twelve points through 19 games, all the while keeping his penalty minutes in check with a total of just 10.

While unable to score on the power play, Keith does all the little things, such as, taking the man, providing excellent outlet passes, making great decisions in all areas of the ice, and running the Hawks' power play.

Toews, while dominant throughout most of the playoffs, has seen his game drop off during the Stanley Cup Finals, registering just one assist through three games and looking tentative at times.

Sure, Toews has been good and his defensive efforts are well documented, still, his Conn Smythe status is now in doubt, whereas a week ago, he was the clear favorite.

For the Flyers, Chris Pronger has been a tower of consistency—providing the Flyers with excellent defensive coverage, containing Blackhawks ultra-pest Dustin Byfuglien, making great passes, and taking the body when it presents itself.

Pronger’s tremendous leadership skills and ability to deflect negative publicity away from the Flyers (IE: taking the game pucks off the ice after Games One and Two) are just a few of the attributes that make Pronger a good candidate to win the Conn Smythe.

Pronger has also put up some decent numbers, including averaging 29:06 in ice time per game (tops in the NHL), registering four goals (three of them on the power play), 17 points, and providing the Flyers with some much needed swagger on the back end.

No player has been better than Pronger throughout the playoffs. Much of the Flyers' success, especially that of Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, can be attributed to Pronger’s excellent defensive play, especially when it comes to clearing the crease area and gobbling up rebounds, which Pronger has done with authority.

All Danny Briere has done for the Flyers thus far is provide the team with electric speed, 11 goals (four on the power play, four of them game-winners), 24 points, and an excellent defensive effort, game in, game out.

Briere now sits just three points behind Toews in the points department (27-24), is second amongst all NHL players in goals scored with 11, and leads all players in game-winners with four (tied with Dustin Byfuglien).

Briere also leads the Stanley Cup Finals with six points in three game, which is nothing to sneeze at.

So, as you can plainly see, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner (whichever player that may be) still has a ways to go before they have looked up the coveted award.

Needless to say, the next two-to-four games will play a big part in determining which player will win, with the winner likely coming from the squad that wins Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Stay tuned, the battle for the Conn Smythe has just begun!

For more NHL news and notes check out my website at www.theslapshot.com
Until next time,

Peace!

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