Henrik Zetterberg is second in playoff scoring with 23 points. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
If the Detroit Red Wings manage to complete their quest for the Stanley Cup tonight and I’m presented with a ballot for the Conn Smythe Trophy, I’m inclined to leave it blank and give it right back to the NHL.
It’s not out of protest or a desire to be a conscientious objector. The fact is, going into Game 5 of the final, I don’t believe anyone deserves to win the Conn Smythe. That could all change with some kind of superhuman performance tonight, but personally, I’m having a hard time coming up with a single player who has delivered an indisputable MVP performance in these playoffs.
But if they insist on awarding the Conn Smythe, shortly after Nicklas Lidstrom becomes the first European to captain a team to a Stanley Cup, Henrik Zetterberg should become the second – after Lidstrom, coincidentally – to be named MVP of the playoffs.
As was the case during the regular season, Zetterberg’s play at both ends of the ice has been superb. He is destined to become the only player in this year’s playoffs to take more than 100 shots and he’s winning more than 54 percent of his faceoffs.
It was Zetterberg who was the forward on the ice for the Red Wings Saturday night when they not only killed the 5-on-3 shorthanded situation that could go down as the ultimate turning point in this series, they didn’t give the Penguins a sniff on that power play.
Zetterberg’s play in the playoffs has been very good, at times brilliant, and he certainly continues to answer the critics who questioned his playoff credentials. He’s as good a choice as any for the Smythe in a playoff in which no clear-cut winner has emerged.
Here are some other contenders and why I wouldn’t choose them, at least based on what we’ve seen so far:
Sidney Crosby: Despite his lack of success so far in the Stanley Cup final, Crosby has been one of the few Penguins whose spirit has not been broken by the deadly efficient Red Wings. He has played very hard and at times has been very good. He pretty much single-handedly won Game 3 for the Penguins when a loss would have spelled their certain doom.
It’s not unprecedented the Conn Smythe go to a player whose team has had its lunch handed to it in the Stanley Cup final. The St. Louis Blues were swept in 1968 by the Montreal Canadiens and Glenn Hall won the Conn Smythe, then in 1976, the Canadiens swept the Philadelphia Flyers and Reggie Leach was named MVP of the playoffs.
On three other occasions, Roger Crozier in 1966, Ron Hextall in 1987 and J-S Giguere in 2003, the player on the losing team in the final has taken MVP honors. And it was one of the great injustices in Conn Smythe history that Chris Pronger, then of the Edmonton Oilers, didn’t win the award in 2006.
But…all those players put in superhuman efforts in the playoffs. Leach, for example, had 19 goals that year in the playoffs, 11 more than any other player. Hall backstopped the Blues to two seven-game triumphs in the first two rounds before falling to the Canadiens.
Crosby has been very good, but I have a tough time casting a vote for a player who has, going into Game 5, six goals in the playoffs.
Johan Franzen: There is little doubt Franzen has been a force in the playoffs this year, scoring 13 goals in 14 games, five of them game-winners and one in overtime. He has stepped his game up to another level and has served notice he’ll be among the NHL’s better power forwards in the future.
But…he hasn’t done a whole lot in the final and in the six games he missed with concussion-like symptoms – not a concussion, remember – the Red Wings went 4-2.
Chris Osgood: It could be argued Osgood saved the Red Wings’ playoff hopes when he stepped into the breach after Dominik Hasek faltered in the first round against Nashville. He leads all NHL goalies in wins and goals-against average and is close to leading all goalies in save percentage as well.
But…Osgood never had to be great in these playoffs, he has only had to be good. He hasn’t had to steal any games; he simply has had to not lose them. Going into tonight’s game, the Red Wings are out-shooting their opponents by 12 shots a game in the playoffs. In his two shutouts in Games 1 and 2, the Red Wings outshot the Pens by a total of 29 shots.
Nicklas Lidstrom: Lidstrom has been his usual, dependable self in these playoffs. He has been a tower of strength on the blueline for the Red Wings and has provided that calm presence they have grown to depend on him to provide, all the while chipping in timely offense. He has a respectable 13 points in the playoffs and has been playing more than 25 minutes a game.
But…geez, I’m not even convinced Lidstrom has been by far the Red Wings’ best defenseman in these playoffs. Niklas Kronwall has used this post-season as his personal coming out party and even though they’re all assists, he has just as many points as Lidstrom and is plus-15 compared to Lidstrom’s plus-9.
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