Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Conn Smythe favorites

The Wings are 87.5% of the way to another Stanley Cup. So, I think we have enough statistical information to start talking about who is going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Wings end up winning the Cup. If Pittsburgh comes back and wins the series, it’ll go to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin so there’s really nothing worth discussing there. Since only three non-Canadians have won the trophy in its 45-year history, my bet is on Crosby. If the Wings hold on to win the Cup, then the Conn Smythe Trophy is more “up in the air” than any Cup Final I can remember. The Wings have marched through the playoffs as a cohesive team getting contributions from virtually every player on the playoff roster including three players—Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino—who played a combined 15 games during the regular season. That formula has resulted in massive success throughout the playoffs but it hasn’t resulted in a clear-cut favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy which, unfortunately, does leave open the slight possibility of a Pittsburgh player winning in a losing effort.

The Conn Smythe has not gone to a forward or d-man from a losing team since Reggie Leach won it with the Flyers in 1976. When a player from a losing team wins, it’s almost always a goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury has been pretty good throughout the playoffs but not as good as Chris Osgood and definitely not good enough to win the Conn Smythe. Crosby or Malkin could snag the trophy since many Wings will likely split the vote; however, neither has been particularly dominating through the first two games of the Finals. If that continues, look for a Red Wing to take home the Conn Smythe despite Crosby and Malkin’s absurd point totals.

Now the question is, which Red Wing would win the trophy? Here is my list in order of most likely and not necessarily who deserves it the most.

1). Chris Osgood

“Ozzie” has been brilliant throughout the playoffs. His save % is an outstanding .930. He has allowed only one goal in each of the last four games and has allowed one goal or fewer in eight of Detroit’s 18 playoff games. He has been extremely consistent throughout the playoffs with only one or two “bad” performances. He hasn’t been quite as good as he was last year when he was a heavy sentimental favorite to win the Conn Smythe but his numbers are close. His save % is exactly the same at .930. His GAA (Goals Against Average) is up a bit from 1.55 last season to 1.95 this season. Still, 1.95 is an outstanding number good enough for second among all playoff goaltenders. Nobody will ever admit to voting this way—and I don’t think voters even necessarily know when they’re voting this way—but Osgood has received so much criticism over his career that I think there is the possibility of voters viewing him winning the Conn Smythe as somewhat of a “Lifetime Achievement Award.” In a close race, sentimentality cannot be overlooked.

2). Henrik Zetterberg

Osgood would have won the Conn Smythe last season if it weren’t for Zets’s two-way domination. His statistics aren’t as gaudy as they were last season but, in my opinion, he has been Detroit’s best player throughout the playoffs. His defense has been suffocating. He has once again put the clamps on Sidney Crosby holding him to zero points and a -1 +/- through two games. Zetterberg is showing why many believe him to be the best two-way player in the NHL. His offensive output is down from last year’s playoffs but he’s still second on the team in points, goals, assist, and +/-. He leads all Detroit forwards in TOI (Total On Ice) by nearly two minutes per game. He also leads Detroit in FO% (Face Off Win %) with a blistering 55.3% as well as time on the penalty kill among forwards. With Pavel Datsyuk struggling through most of the playoffs and missing the last few games, the onus has fallen on Zets to deliver and he certainly has. In my opinion, Zets has been the most outstanding player on the Red Wings throughout the playoffs and deserves a second consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy.

3). Nicklas Lidstrom

Nick is the darkhorse candidate at this point. His numbers are every bit as good as they were when he took home the Conn Smythe in 2002 except he missed two games which could end up costing him. Still, his performance has been good enough to garner consideration and a big finish could put him in position to snatch the trophy from Osgood and Zetterberg. Nick leads the Wings in TOI per game, as well as per game minutes on both the penalty kill and power play. He is tied for fifth on the team in points and tied for third in assists. He has played mistake-free hockey and has shutdown some of the best lines in the NHL. In my opinion, Lidstrom should be second in line for the Conn Smythe just behind Zets and just ahead of Osgood.

4). Johan Franzen

For the second consecutive year, Franzen jumped out as an early Conn Smythe favorite posting eight goals through Detroit’s first 10 playoff games. He has since cooled off going for just three in his last eight games. Still, Franzen leads the team in goals, points and shooting %. His production has cushioned the impact of both Datsyuk and Marian Hossa’s struggles. Franzen has been an important piece to Detroit’s march through the playoffs but his game is just not as well-rounded as Zetterberg’s.

5). (Tie) Dan Cleary/Valtteri Filppula

I would not have a problem if someone wanted to put Clearly and/or Filppula ahead of Franzen. Cleary’s forechecking has been instrumental in driving Detroit’s offense and puck-possession game. He has also been a crucial part of Detroit’s penalty kill spending more time on that unit than any Detroit forward not named Zetterberg. He’s second on the team in hits and leads the team in +/- with a whopping +18. That’s +6 more than the next closest player. He’s third on the team in goals, fourth in points, and has notched two game-winning goals. Cleary doesn’t have a realistic shot of winning the Conn Smythe but he has been one of Detroit’s five best players in the playoffs.

Filppula has had an outstanding postseason. He leads the Wings in assists while being one of Detroit’s penalty kill stalwarts. He is also third on the team in points and +/-. Most importantly, the vast majority of his production has come at even strength. Detroit’s third line—led by Filppula—has been a juggernaut in the playoffs giving Detroit three legitimate scoring lines.

In the end, if it’s a Wing it’ll be Ozzie or Zets. If it’s Osgood, then the Hall of Fame talk can stop because he’ll be in. If it’s Zets, he’d become only the sixth player in NHL history to win two Conn Smythe Trophies. That list would go; Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Patrick Roy, Bernie Parent, and Henrik Zetterberg. Zets would also become only the second player in NHL history to win it back-to-back. That list would go; Mario Lemieux and Henrik Zetterberg. Whether it’s Ozzie or Zets, someone would see their company and legacy increase dramatically.


Anonymous said...

After Pittsburgh's 4-2 win last night, do you think that your writing this post is more or less of a jinx than holding up the conference trophy?

Jake said...

I’m not sure what you mean. Did you notice that bolded, underlined, and italicized, “if” in the second sentence of the post? I also outlined what I think will happen if Pittsburgh wins in the third sentence of the post. I’m not sure how totally covering the Conn Smythe picture from both sides could make someone think that I jinxed the Red Wings. So, no, I don’t think this post jinxed anything. If they win, it will be because they’re better. If they lose, it will be because they’re not better. I’m not sure how I factor into that equation.


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