Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who should win the Conn Smythe?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to make history Thursday night as they host the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 series lead and the Stanley Cup in the building.

The series isn’t over yet, but a Pittsburgh win wouldn’t be a surprise given how things have played out. The Penguins have looked faster and have outshot the Sharks in every game, and have yet to play so much as a second while trailing. For a matchup that most figured would be close, the Penguins have had a surprisingly easy time of things.

One group that won’t be having an easy time: Conn Smythe voters. With perhaps just one game left to play in the post-season, a clear frontrunner has yet to emerge. Instead, we’ve got a handful of candidates, some with stronger cases than others.

Assuming the Penguins can finish things off at some point over the next three games, it’s going to make for a tough vote. [Note to editors: Delete this entire post after the Sharks’ Game 7 win.]

In the hours leading up to Game 5, let's try to help out those voters with a look at the options. We'll do this one candidate at a time, starting with the biggest name of the bunch.

Candidate #1: Sidney Crosby

The case for: He's Sidney Crosby. He's the Penguins' identity, their best player, and the focus of everything they do. Opponents game plan around him, he always faces the toughest competition, he plays in all situations and he gets the most ice time of any forward by a decent margin. If the Penguins are winning, there's a good chance Crosby is a big part of the reason.

On top of that, he's had decent numbers so far, with six goals and 17 points in 22 games. That's not quite the level of production we're used to from Crosby, but it's close. And given everything else he brings to the table it's more than enough to get him into the Conn Smythe conversation.

The case against: His post-season numbers may be somewhat deceptive; he lit it up in the Penguins' relatively easy opening-round win over the New York Rangers but only has three goals and nine points in 17 games since. He had three multi-point games in that series, but only one in the other three rounds combined. And it was only one series ago that he was being roundly criticized in the Pittsburgh media for not doing enough.

Maybe more importantly, he's been quiet so far in the Cup Final, limited to just two assists so far. A lackluster final doesn't rule a candidate out – the Conn Smythe is for the MVP of the entire post-season, not just one series, and Jonathan Toews won it in 2010 despite being held to just three assists in the final. But in a close race, voters may prefer somebody who's had a more obvious impact against the Sharks.

Bottom line: Crosby hasn't put up eye-popping numbers, but he's shown up at big moments — including an OT winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning and that faceoff-win assist on another OT goal in Game 2 against the Sharks.

Is that enough?

In the eyes of some, it apparently is. And in a tight race, he'll be a tempting choice for voters looking for a safe option – nobody's going to scream too loudly if Crosby's the pick.

So the case for Crosby is strong. Let's pencil him in for now, but see how some of other candidates measure up.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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