The Penguins are up 2-1 on the Predators in the Stanley Cup Finals as they try to repeat. The odds are in their favor to do it, but now is not the time to get the parade planning started down Grant Street. It is a good time to turn one’s attention to contemplating who will win the Conn Smythe Trophy, if the Penguins do win, though.
Realistically, there’s three choices for the Conn Smythe, given to the team MVP for the entire run of the playoffs, not just the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins have three candidates in:
- Evgeni Malkin, Center — 22 games — 9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points
- Sidney Crosby, Center — 21 games — 7 goals, 16 assists, 23 points
- Jake Guentzel, Left Wing — 22 games — 13 goals, 7 assists, 20 points
I included the positions above for an interesting note about the Conn Smythe. There have been 49 previous Conn Smythe trophies awarded. Only one of them has gone to a left winger, that being Bob Gainey from Montreal in 1979. Centers and goalies have dominated the award, with each of them winning it 16 times.
It’s very easy for the writers who vote on the Conn Smythe to just award it to the leading point getter from the winning team. If Evgeni Malkin were to win, he would be a worthy choice. He was dominant against the Blue Jackets with 11 points in the 5-game series. He followed that with 7 points in 7 games against the Capitals, then 6 more points against the Senators in 7 games. So far he’s stayed consistent against the Predators, too, with 4 points (all goals) in 3 games. He’s ripped some great goals, like this one from the point in Game 1 to open the scoring in the Finals:
Jake Guentzel has been a sniper in these playoffs, though, with 13 goals, including four in the Stanley Cup Finals. No other player has yet to notch double digits yet. Last year, when Phil Kessel became a cult hero in this town, he had 10 goals and was the prime choice for many (including me) to win the Conn Smythe. Guentzel has blown past that total and doesn’t seem interested in slowing down. He’s one point away from tying both Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for the all-time rookie scoring record in the postseason.
And with the exception of the Senators’ series, Guentzel has been just as prominent on the score sheet as Malkin. When Sergei Bobrovsky goes to sleep at night, he wakes in a cold sweat thinking about the 5 goals that Guentzel put past him in the opening 5 game series. Guentzel led all Pens with 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) against the Capitals. He’s also had two wildly different goals in the Cup finals. He fired this wrister past Pekka Rinne in Game 1 after the Penguins slipped into a hockey coma for 37 minutes:
And then scored two very different goals in Game 2. One was squeezed through a speck of daylight in Pekka Rinne and the other was blasted practically through the netting:
Those were his 4th and 5th game winning goals in the Cup playoffs; no other player has more than 3. He scored again in Game 3, in the 5-1 loss to the Predators. And, P.S., he’s only 22. The youngest player to ever win the Conn Smythe was all-time great goalie, Patrick Roy, in 1986 for the Canadiens. Guentzel would also be only the 5th American to win the trophy (Brian Leetch, Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick, and Patrick Kane are the others).
Guentzel is so young and still so green that he’s probably not fully aware of all that he’s achieved in these playoffs. At this point, he’s just trying to not let the game wash over him like a tidal wave. Malkin has been a steady and reliable point producer, even if there are some pockets of Penguin fans questioning if he’s been truly dominant or not, but Guentzel has been flashy. His goals have been timely, momentum-changing goals. For a player that gets 1 minute less of ice time than Malkin and 2 minutes less than Crosby, he’s supplying a strong point output.
It would be easy for the writers to select Malkin for his second Conn Smythe trophy. It would be bold and correct to select the young upstart with a blazing future in Jake Guentzel.