The Conn Smythe Trophy for the league’s playoff MVP won’t be awarded until the end of the Stanley Cup Final and the winner is usually a member of the victorious team – or, in the rare occasion, of the runner-up – but several players have performed at a Conn Smythe-worthy level so far in the 2010 playoffs. If their teams don’t advance to the Final, they won’t win the hardware. Regardless of that fact, however, their accomplishments should not be overlooked.
Naturally, Sidney Crosby, who is leading the league in post-season scoring, is enjoying another sensational playoff. That doesn’t (or shouldn’t) surprise anyone. But here are a few other names that wouldn’t necessarily have been on the top of the list before the playoffs began.
Joe Pavelski – San Jose Sharks. Joe Pavelski is an excellent, well-rounded hockey player. He has scored 25 goals each of the last two seasons, is solid defensively, kills penalties and is one of the league’s top faceoff men. He was a valuable member of the U.S. Olympic squad, too. But on a San Jose team that has Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle, he’s not the sort of guy you would have expected to dominate the headlines so far in the playoffs. Yet, Pavelski has netted nine playoff goals, including two of San Jose’s biggest in the first round against Colorado. In Game Two – after the Sharks had already dropped Game One – he scored a sixth-attacker tying goal with 31.3 seconds left in regulation. San Jose won the game in overtime. Then, after the Sharks lost Game Three 1-0 in overtime, Pavelski tallied the OT winner in Game Four. Beyond those two crucial tallies, Pavelski iced the series win for San Jose in Game Six – he scored the first goal and later broke a 2-2 third period tie with the eventual game-winner. He hasn’t slowed down in the Detroit series, scoring two goals in each of the first two games, helping the Sharks hold serve on home ice.
Miroslav Satan – Boston Bruins. Twenty-nine other teams could have signed Satan when the Bruins inked him in early January. The talented winger who once scored 40 goals in a season for the Buffalo Sabres was a part of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup roster last year. But he only netted one goal for Pittsburgh in 17 playoff games last year and wasn’t re-signed by the Pens this year. He has carried the reputation – fairly or unfairly – of being an enigmatic player, one who couldn’t be counted on to produce in the clutch. He has done much this playoff year to erase that label. In Boston’s series win against Buffalo, he burned his former team by scoring the double overtime winner in Game Four. That was the killer game for the Sabres, who blew a 2-0 third period lead and fell behind three games to one. Then in Game Six, Satan tallied an important third-period insurance goal that turned out to be the game-winner in Boston’s 4-3 series-clinching triumph. That goal was the start of a four-game goal scoring streak – he has netted goals in each of Boston’s first three wins against Philadelphia, including another game-winner on Wednesday in Game Three.
Jaroslav Halak/Mike Cammelleri – Montreal Canadiens. Halak’s accomplishments have been well documented. He stopped 131 of 134 shots in Montreal’s three-game comeback series win against Washington. He has been brilliant again in Games Two, Three and Four of the Pittsburgh series. He has had a couple of clunkers too, but when a goalie has an off-night, it’s much more magnified than for another position player. I’ll go out on a limb and write that if the Canadiens do make it to the Final, he’ll have the inside track to take home the Conn Smythe, regardless of whether the Canadiens win the Cup.
In many of those games in which the Canadiens have been outshot and outchanced yet still won, Cammelleri has been the one to provide timely goals. He tallied the first goal of the game just 90 seconds into the Canadiens’ critical Game Five win at Washington. Two nights later, he scored the first two goals – again in the first period – giving Halak an early lead in the netminder’s 53-save effort. He added another two-goal game in Montreal’s Game Two win at Pittsburgh.
I don’t mean to neglect some of the other clutch performers, such as Vancouver’s Mikael Samuelsson, who has eight goals in nine games and Detroit’s Henrik Zetterburg and Pavel Datsyuk, both of whom excelled in the four Detroit wins over Phoenix in the first round. And of course, Johan Franzen had four goals and six points in the Red Wings’ blowout win last night.
We’ll see how many of these players listed will still be in action this time next week!
Let’s close with a question from the mailbag …
Are the Bolts better off trading the #6 pick for a puck moving defenseman that can help now or taking a young defender that is a year or two away from contributing? I keep reading that Toronto is eager to get in the upper part of the draft and that Thomas Kaberle may be available. Edmonton is rumored to want more high picks and Tom Gilbert may be in play. What do you think?
Isn't it time for Phil Esposito to be honored by the team and have his name hung in the rafters of the Forum?
Thanks! I enjoy your broadcasts and listen to every game.
Kevin Smith from St. Pete
Thanks for writing (and the kind words). You have a couple of great questions. Regarding keeping or trading the draft pick, this will be an important question for the new General Manager. The answers to other questions will help answer that one. What players do the Lightning have ranked in the top six? And in their opinion, how NHL-ready is the draft pick? Armed with those answers, the Tampa Bay brass will determine whether drafting the player, whether he’s a forward or defenseman, brings more value than trading the pick. I don’t profess to know these amateur players well enough to answer any of those questions – that’s what the Lightning scouts have been working on extensively in advance of the draft. But I do know this. Over the last couple of years, we have seen more and more amateur players jump into the NHL and perform right away. That’s been true not only of forwards, but also on defense, which is typically viewed as the more difficult position in which to quickly acclimate. Of course, Victor Hedman was a staple on the Lightning blue line last year. But you can also look at Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, Zach Bogosian and Erik Karlsson, just to name of few. So while I don’t know what the Lightning will do on draft day, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that a top-six draft pick is someone who is incapable of contributing sooner rather than later.
Management teams have different philosophies on the right time to retire numbers – or honor executives in that manner. For whatever reason, prior Lightning groups haven’t felt that the time was right to start the tradition. I’m sure it will happen at some point and when it does, Phil’s name will be at least one of those up in the rafters.
Again, if you have any questions for me, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.