Top Conn Smythe candidates for each team still in the NHL Playoffs

conn smythe candidates
May 29, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) falls on Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during the third period in game six of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL Playoffs are halfway through and four teams are remaining. Before the Stanley Cup is handed off from Gary Bettman to the winning team’s captain he will award the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.

The Conn Smythe Trophy is named after a Toronto Maple Leafs’ great. Conn Smythe was the team’s owner, general manager, and coach. His name appears on the Cup eight times as an owner. The award was introduced in the 1964-65 season and 46 players have won it over the course of the 53 times it was handed out.

Victor Hedman won it last season for the Lightning, will he win it again? Let’s pick one player from each team as a Conn Smythe candidate based on the last two rounds.

Conn Smythe candidates: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

conn smythe candidates carey price
May 31, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) warms up before playing Montreal Canadiens in game seven of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens came into this postseason with the lowest point total of any team that qualified at just 59. For context, two other teams (Dallas Stars and New York Rangers) missed the playoffs with more points. When the Habs made it in, they were considered to be an easy out for the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs.

Carey Price had other ideas.

Through two rounds, which consists of a stunning 7 game series win over Toronto and an almost equally as surprising sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, Price is the clear MVP. He leads all goalies this postseason with a .935 SV% and is second among remaining backstops with a 1.97 GAA. The 33 year-old net minder needs to be even better to take down the Vegas Golden Knights, but if there’s any goalie capable – it’s Price.

Honorable mention: Tyler Toffoli

Marc Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Marc-Andre Fleury
Aug 15, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save during warmup against the Chicago Blackhawks in game three of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

What a resurgent season Marc-Andre Fleury is having. The 36 year-old goalie looked like he was the 1B to Robin Lehner’s 1A coming into the year. Instead, Fleury has forged a possible Vezina winning campaign and is the MVP for Vegas this post season.

The Golden Knights came back from an 0-2 hole against the Colorado Avalanche, largely on the strength of Fleury’s goaltending. In these playoffs he’s sporting a .923 SV%, and leads all remaining tenders with a 1.91 GAA. He has all eight of Vegas’ wins to go with four losses. Lehner has started only one game in these playoffs, which was a loss to the Avs to open the series.

It’s pretty fitting that the two best goalies will be going head-to-head in the next round.

Honorable mention: Mark Stone

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita Kucherov
Kucherov to miss the season (RusEmbUSA)

This one was the hardest to pick of the four teams. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been spectacular in the post season in defeating the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. “I’ve seen a lot of goalies that were good, but he’s as good as anyone that I’ve ever seen,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I go back to Dominik Hasek and how he affects the team the way they can play. He makes it look easy. Dominik Hasek made it look hard.”

After a statement like that, you may be wondering how is he not my choice for Tampa’s Conn Smythe winner. Well, Nikita Kucherov is leading all skaters in scoring with a staggering 18 points in 11 games. I understand that 13 of those points come on the man advantage, but special teams are a key to winning games and Kucherov is extraordinary at it.

Tampa is going to need Kucherov’s offensive production, especially on the power play to beat a tough Islanders team.

Honorable mention: Andre Vasilevskiy

Josh Bailey, New York Islanders

josh bailey
May 22, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Josh Bailey (12) celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of game four of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of losing their captain Anders Lee to injury, many players have stepped up. Josh Bailey is certainly one of them and is second on the team in scoring with 11 points in 12 games. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is the team’s leading scorer with 13 points in 12 contests.

Bailey has been clutch and someone Barry Trotz trusts to start in the defensive zone. It was also his double OT winner that gave the Isles the advantage over the Penguins in a pivotal Game 5. When asked about the upcoming series against Tampa he said, “We feel like we still have some unfinished business.”

If the Islanders hope to beat the heavily favored Lightning, it will take every member to pull the same rope. But that’s who they are, and Josh Bailey represents that well.

Honorable mention: Adam Pelech