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Behind The Numbers

Keys to winning Conn Smythe Trophy

Members of Cup-winning teams, top scorers boost chances for playoff MVP award

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

Depending on which team wins the Stanley Cup, forwards Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks, goaltender Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and defenseman Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators are likely the front-runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

By studying the voting patterns of the Professional Hockey Writers Association since the award was introduced in 1965, it's possible to identify the factors that carry the most weight and which specific players may have the edge this season.

To win the Conn Smythe, the most important factor is to be on the team that wins the Stanley Cup. Players from the winning team have won the Conn Smythe 46 of the 51 times it's been awarded.


[RELATED: Karlsson of Senators leading Conn Smythe Trophy race]


Four of the five exceptions were goalies: Roger Crozier of the Detroit Red Wings in 1966, Glenn Hall of the St. Louis Blues in 1968, Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1987 and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003. These goalies had outstanding playoff performances on teams that were perceived to be underdogs and lost in the Final.

This precedent opens the door for someone like Rinne to win the Conn Smythe, even if his team, the Nashville Predators, advances to the Final but doesn't win the Cup. Entering Saturday, he leads all goalies with a .940 save percentage; he is tied for fifth with two Bruins goalies, Tim Thomas (2010-11) and Tuukka Rask (2012-13), in one playoff year since the statistic became official in 1983-84 (minimum 14 games). Giguere ranks second at .945.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm4: Rinne lays out for tremendous stop

The lone skater from a losing team to win the Conn Smythe was forward Reggie Leach of the 1976 Flyers, who set the single-season playoff record by scoring 19 goals in 16 games. Forward Jari Kurri of the Edmonton Oilers matched his total in 1984-85 by scoring 19 goals in 18 games.

Leach scored 11 more goals than the runner-up, center Jean Ratelle of the Boston Bruins. He had one more than the combined total of the next three highest-scoring players on the Flyers -- forwards Mel Bridgman, Bill Barber and Don Saleski. Each scored six goals.

Forwards Jakob Silfverberg of the Ducks and Jake Guentzel of the Penguins share the lead in goals this year with nine, followed by center Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Senators and Getzlaf with eight. It is unlikely that anyone will match Leach's achievements this season, and his record could stand for a long time.

For a skater to win the Conn Smythe, the key factor is to win the scoring race. Of the 35 skaters to take home the trophy, 17 won or were tied for the scoring lead. Six others were within three points.

At the moment, this perspective favors Malkin, who leads the NHL with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 15 games, and Getzlaf, who has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 15 games.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Malkin ties game with tip-in goal

If Pittsburgh or Anaheim wins the Stanley Cup, and Malkin or Getzlaf wins the scoring race, they may be the front-runners to win the Conn Smythe. Since 1965, the player with the most points was on the Stanley Cup-winning team 36 times. In those 36 seasons, the Conn Smythe was twice as likely to be awarded to that scoring leader than to a lower-scoring player on that team (16 times to eight). Goalies won in the other 12 years.

Of the eight times the Conn Smythe went to a lower-scoring player on the winning team, that player was within two points of the scoring lead three times. The five remaining exceptions were players who exhibited notable defensive skills and/or leadership qualities; center Dave Keon of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967, defenseman Bobby Orr of the Bruins in 1970, forward Bob Gainey of the Montreal Canadiens in 1979, center Butch Goring of the New York Islanders in 1981 and Mark Messier of the Edmonton Oilers in 1984.

Continuing with the earlier example, that could still leave open the possibility of a player with notable leadership and/or defensive skills, like centers Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Ryan Kesler of the Ducks, or Karlsson, winning the Conn Smythe.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm6: Crosby receives Conn Smythe Trophy

Crosby and Karlsson's potential could be further boosted by the fact that they are captains. Of the 11 captains of Cup-winning teams to win the Conn Smythe, five did not win the scoring race. Karlsson leads his team with 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 16 games. He leads all defensemen but is tied for sixth overall.

Centers and goalies are the players most likely to win the Conn Smythe, having done so 16 times each. The trophy has been awarded to defensemen 10 times, and nine times to wings.

Working against Crosby is the fact that he won the Conn Smythe last year and is one of finalists for the Hart Trophy this season.

Orr, goalie Bernie Parent of the Flyers, center Wayne Gretzky of the Oilers, center Mario Lemieux of the Penguins and goalie Patrick Roy of the Canadiens are the only players to win the Conn Smythe on multiple occasions; Roy is the lone three-time winner. Orr, Gretzky and forward Guy Lafleur of the Canadiens are the only players to win the Conn Smythe and the Hart in the same season.

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