Sidney Crosby captured his first Conn Smythe on Sunday night, earning the nod from media voters in a tough field that hadn’t produced a clear cut favorite. Plenty of fans thought the voters got it right. But others were disappointed, with many of those feeling the honor should have gone to Phil Kessel.
It’s not hard to see why. Kessel is a divisive player (especially among fans of his former teams), but when viewed from a certain angle he makes for a fantastic story. And more importantly, he was the Penguins leading scorer in the playoffs, finishing three points up on Crosby. And that made his Conn Smythe loss to Crosby an unusual one, at least in terms of recent NHL history.
But simply leading a team in scoring is no guarantee of Conn Smythe glory, nor should it be, and the award has a long history of debatable decisions. So today, let’s look back at some of the other cases in NHL history in which a Cup winner’s leading scorer was snubbed by the voters. We’ll ignore the (many) times where a leading scorer was passed over for a defenseman or goaltender, since that tends to be an apples and oranges case. Instead, we’ll focus on cases that fit the Kessel/Crosby pattern, where a team’s leading scorer was passed over for another forward.
As we’ll find out, it turns out that Kessel and Crosby are in good company. Here are five forwards who skated away with the Conn Smythe despite finishing well back of one or more teammates in the scoring race.
1967: Toronto Maple Leafs
The leading scorer was: Jim Pappin, who racked up 15 points in 12 games. Linemates Pete Stemkowski and Bob Pulford also cracked double digits, as did future Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich.
But the Conn Smythe went to: Dave Keon, who finished tied for fifth on the team with eight points.
What were they thinking?: This was only the third time the Conn Smythe had been awarded, so a traditional set of criteria hadn’t been established yet. But it’s not hard to see what the voters were going for here: Keon was the Maple Leafs best player, a four-time all-star who’d just finished leading the team in regular season scoring. He was also one of the game’s best two-way centers, so the lack of eye-popping offensive totals was easy enough to look past. His role against the Black Hawks and Canadiens was to shut down their best players, and he delivered.
1979: Montreal Canadiens
The leading scorer was: Guy Lafleur, who followed up a 129-point season with 23 more in the playoffs, leaving him tied with teammate Jacques Lemaire for the league lead.
But the Conn Smythe went to: Don Cherry, for forgetting how many players were allowed on the ice at one time.
OK, fine, it was Bob Gainey, who had 16 points.
What were they thinking?: Gainey was the best defensive forward of his era, having just finished the second of four consecutive Selke-winning campaigns. (Legend even has it that the award was created with Gainey in mind.)
And while his playoff numbers may not have come close to Lafleur’s, they were well ahead of his typical regular season output, meaning voters were seeing him at his best at both ends of the ice. It may also be worth noting that Lafleur had already won the Conn Smythe once before, in 1977, and at that point no forward had ever won the honor multiple times.