The conference finalists are set in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders squaring off in the East, and the Vegas Golden Knights taking on the Dallas Stars in the West. Which means the race is on for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoff MVP.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association vote on the NHL’s playoff MVP award. In the last 20 Conn Smythe Awards, five were goaltenders, four were defensemen and the rest were forwards.
Here’s where the MVP candidates in the Stanley Cup playoffs currently rank:
New York has had several different heroes in the playoffs — including both goaltenders — but Bailey is the Islanders’ leading scorer in the playoffs with 15 points (two goals, 13 assists). He had six points — all assists — in the last four games of their series against the Flyers.
The Knights forward is second on the team in goals (6) and points (15), but it’s his 200-foot game that’s been dazzling in the postseason. Stone leads the Knights with 2.84 takeaways per 60 minutes.
The Stars center is tied for the team lead in goals, with eight tallies. He has an established reputation as a playoff hero. The Conn Smythe is an award that likes to tell a story. If the Stars win and Pavelski leads the team in goals, his arrival last offseason as a postseason difference-maker that actually made a difference will be one such story.
The Lightning defenseman has nine points in 13 games, skating to a plus-11 and averaging a team-high 26 minutes per game. He also had the series-clinching goal in overtime against the Bruins. Keep in mind that this is an award driven by the writers’ votes, the same writers who have made Hedman a Norris Trophy finalist for four straight seasons.
In 12 starts, Lehner is 8-4 with a .918 save percentage, a 1.99 goals-against average and the save of the playoffs in Game 7 against the Canucks. Through all the controversy swirling around the Vegas goalie spot, Lehner has thrived. His three shutouts also lead the postseason.
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The Lightning goalie leads the playoffs in save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (1.91), and has been the backbone of the Lightning’s two series wins. He really found his groove in the Boston series, giving up a total of four goals in the last three games. Vasilevskiy is the leading goalie still around in the playoffs in goals saved vs. expectation.
For a while, it looked like the Knights lacked that foundational defenseman that Stanley Cup champions have. Theodore has disproved that theory with a star-making postseason. He has a team-leading 16 points in 15 games, skating 22:20 per game to a plus-6. A difference-maker for the Knights.
He doesn’t lead the Islanders in points; that’s Bailey, with 15 of them. He doesn’t lead in goals; that’s a three-way tie between Anthony Beauvillier, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee, with seven each. But with five goals and eight points, Barzal has solid numbers to go with being the most dangerous player on the ice in most games. He had six points in seven games against the Flyers. He had an overtime winner against the Capitals, too.
Point is the leader in goals (6) and points (18) for the postseason, including the winning goals in the Lightning’s five-overtime classic against Columbus and the overtime series clincher against the Blue Jackets. In the Boston series, Point had eight points in five games. Factor in the “picking up the slack in the absence of Steven Stamkos” narrative, and you have a strong Conn Smythe case.
With 21 points in 16 games, the 21-year-old defenseman is the highest scorer left in the postseason. The last offensively dominant performance in the playoffs by a defenseman was Brent Burns, with 24 points in 2016. The three highest-scoring postseasons for defensemen: Paul Coffey (37 points, 1985), Brian Leetch (34 points, 1994) and Al MacInnis (31 points, 1989). While Coffey was trumped by a fellow named Wayne Gretzky, the other two players won the Conn Smythe for the Stanley Cup champion Rangers and Flames, respectively. If the Stars win the Stanley Cup, it’s easy to see Heiskanen doing the same.