Can Connor McDavid win the Conn Smythe even if the Oilers don’t win the Stanley Cup?

NHL

SUNRISE, Fla. — For many NHL players, a four-point performance in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final that also shattered a Wayne Gretzky playoff record would be a career achievement.

For Connor McDavid, it was Saturday.

Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman has witnessed plenty of McDavid magic since becoming his teammate three seasons ago — McDavid had a hand on the majority of Hyman’s 117 goals with the Oilers. But he was still in awe of McDavid’s accomplishment in Game 4: setting a new NHL record for assists in a single postseason (32), passing Gretzky’s 1988 record, while moving into fifth place for most points (38) in a single postseason.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Hyman said. “I don’t think many people thought any of Wayne’s statistics were attainable. He’s the Great One. I think Connor is putting together one of the best postseasons [ever]. He’s taken that onus.”

McDavid has been everything for Edmonton, from his five-point night to start the playoffs to his Game 6 heroics against the Dallas Stars to his seven points in the Final, leading all scorers. If the Oilers somehow rally to win the Stanley Cup after falling 3-0 to the Florida Panthers, McDavid should win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in a walk.

But should he be the Conn Smythe winner, win or lose for Edmonton?


THE OILERS BELIEVE the MVP is McDavid’s, no matter what the team does.

“For sure. He’s the one guy who consistently brings an elite level play every game for us,” defenseman Brett Kulak said. “Maybe people on the outside looking in might not see everything he’s doing, but we feel his contributions and his impact on the team every single night. He always brings that extra gear.”

Edmonton forward Dylan Holloway also believes McDavid is the playoffs’ MVP, no matter if the Oilers fall short of the Cup.

“I think so. I mean, anytime you beat Gretzky’s record, it’s pretty special,” he said. “He’s been unbelievable so far for us. He’s such a great leader. So I think so, yeah.”

The Conn Smythe has been awarded 58 times. It’s been given to a player from the team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final just five times. In four of those cases, it’s gone to a goaltender: Roger Crozier of the Detroit Red Wings (1966), Glenn Hall of the St. Louis Blues (1968), Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers (1987) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (2003).

Only one skater has captured the Conn Smythe in a losing effort: Reggie Leach of the Flyers in 1976. The Flyers had won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, but they were swept in the ’76 Stanley Cup Final by the Montreal Canadiens.

As in other seasons where a losing player won the MVP, the Canadiens had strong candidates but not one that stood out. Ken Dryden was 12-1 with a 1.92 goals-against average, but he had already won the award as a rookie in 1971 and was playing behind a steamroller that lost just once en route to their seventh Stanley Cup since 1965. Guy LaFleur had a solid but unspectacular 17 points in 13 games. He would win the Conn Smythe in 1977 with 26 points in 14 games, for comparison’s sake.

The case for Leach is actually similar to the case for McDavid: Leading the playoffs in scoring while shattering NHL records.

Leach led the playoffs in scoring with 24 points in 16 games. His 19 goals set a Stanley Cup playoff record, breaking Montreal forward Yvan Cournoyer’s record of 15 goals in 17 games set in 1973. Leach had nine of those goal in the Flyers’ semifinals win over the Boston Bruins, accounting for nearly half of the Flyers’ tallies in the series and setting an NHL modern-era record for goals in a playoff series.

Leach’s Conn Smythe win was treated by the media as perfunctory, given his accomplishments. Sports Illustrated didn’t even report his MVP win in its game story. The New York Times didn’t mention Leach until the 13th paragraph of its story, right below a reference to Flyers anthem singer Kate Smith and her “flouncy, lime-colored dress.”

Like Reggie Leach, McDavid has:

  • Led the playoffs in scoring by a considerable margin, eight points better than teammate Leon Draisaitl.

  • Broken an NHL scoring record in leading his team to the Stanley Cup Final, by passing Gretzky in assists.

  • Accounted for the majority of his team’s offensive accomplishments. Entering Game 5, McDavid has 38 points, and the Oilers have scored 75 goals. That puts McDavid on pace to become just the second player in NHL history to account for over half his team’s goals in a best-of-7 postseason. The other was — who else? — Wayne Gretzky in 1988, with 43 points on Edmonton’s 84 goals.

  • Been the clear-cut MVP for his team while his opponents have multiple claims to the Conn Smythe throne. ESPN BET has goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and captain Aleksander Barkov neck-and-neck for MVP.

On top of that, McDavid’s teammates credit him as the catalyst for their playoff comebacks.

That tracks back to the regular season, when Edmonton’s resurgence after a disastrous start had as much to do with McDavid finding his game as the team’s change in coaches. In the playoffs, McDavid’s clutch nature actually gave him another NHL record: Most points (23) in games following a loss, passing Doug Gilmour (20 in 1993) for the most in one playoff year.

“Any time our team’s backs are against the wall, he’s the first guy to push back,” Hyman said. “For us to come back, he’s got to be the best. He seems to always be the best when we’re in these situations.”


THE PANTHERS HAVE multiple MVP candidates entering Game 5, and anecdotally, both Bobrovsky and Barkov have their supporters among the voters.

The path for Barkov is clear: Hit the scoreboard in a significant way in a Cup-clinching game, lead Florida in postseason scoring and exert his defensive will against McDavid’s line in that game. His 21 points are one better than Matthew Tkachuk for the team lead.

Bobrovsky’s path became a little more complicated after Game 4, when he was pulled in the second period following five Edmonton goals.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Bobrovsky’s 2.27 goals-against average would be the worst by a Conn Smythe-winning goaltender since Edmonton’s Bill Ranford won in 1990 with a 2.53 GAA. Ranford had a higher save percentage (.912) than Bobrovsky currently has (.909). In fact, Playoff Bob’s save percentage would be the second-worst by a goaltender to win the Conn Smythe behind Hextall’s .908 save percentage in 1987, when he won MVP in a losing effort.

As a reminder, there are 18 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association that vote on the Conn Smythe. (In full disclosure, I am not one of them.) They submit their top 3 for the Conn Smythe via email by the 10-minute mark of the third period of a potential Cup-clinching game.

Voters can submit contingencies with their selections. For example, let’s say a voter likes Bobrovsky but caveats that if Barkov scores the game-winner in a game that’s tied at the time of the voting, Barkov gets elevated to No. 1.

What happens in a Florida Game 5 win could ultimately decide which Panther takes the Conn Smythe.

But what if Edmonton wins to force Game 6?

Leach won the MVP in a sweep, as did Glenn Hall, but Crozier’s Red Wings lost in six games. The last two players on losing teams that won the Conn Smythe both lost the Cup in Game 7.

The longer the Stanley Cup Final goes, the stronger McDavid’s case as “MVP, win or lose” could get, provided he continues to be the one that rallies Edmonton.

But if you ask the Oilers, Connor McDavid should win the Conn Smythe regardless of the series result.

“He’s captain of the team. It’s his leadership and presence in the room. Off the ice. On practice days. The work he’s putting in, he’s setting the tone and setting the pace of every day,” Kulak said. “It’s not easy to do that. So, for my opinion, I think for sure [he should win].”

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