Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hypothetical: Playoff MVP

What if the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup? Of course, we would have all lost our damned minds, there would have been a week long bender of Red Wings fans, and between February and April of next year, there'd have been a slew of newborn boys named Gustav and girls named Joakina.

For the record, they'd make one gorgeous child together. (Photo: AP)
If the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup, a question popped into my mind: who would have been the Conn Smythe winner? It may seem silly, but while we wait for more signings and camps and pre-season to start, might as well have a bit of curious fun.

In case you're unaware, the Conn Smythe trophy is awarded to the player who is judged most valuable to his team during the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs - and interestingly, that's based on the entirety of the playoffs. It could be awarded to a team that got knocked out in the first round. It can, and has, been awarded to a player of the team that lost in the Stanley Cup finals. Roger Crozier (Red Wings, 1966), Glenn Hall (Blues, 1968), Reggie Leach (Flyers, 1976), Ron Hextall (Flyers, 1987) and most recently Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Ducks, 2003) have all won the Conn Smythe as a member of the losing team. So if anything, the Flyers excel at doing a really great job while another team wins the Stanley Cup. That certainly explains the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades. 

For the purposes of this discussion, we're going to assume that the winner would come from the hypothetical Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Seeing as how both of the actual playoff series the Wings played in went to 7 games, I'm going to say that our hypothetical Conference and Stanley Cup final series both go to 7 games. I believe there are four players who would have been worthy of "nomination", so to speak, for the Conn Smythe from the Red Wings this year. I'm going to extrapolate their stats for a full 28 games, with one or two "X Factors" for each player that would have been proof of them having gone above and beyond for the team and made them worthy of winning. They are listed in no particular order. 

Contender #1: Damien Brunner
Actual Stats: 5 goals, 4 assists (9 points); +2 and 1 GWG (OT winner against Anaheim)

Potential Stats: Brunner averaged a goal about every 3 games, and an assist about every 4. He could have potentially had 10 or more goals, 8 or more assists for 18 or more points. We will also assume one of his potential goals would have been a game winner. 

Why Brunner for Conn Smythe: Brunner led the team in scoring over the playoffs, and based on the numbers that could have continued to be the case over the course of a full 28 game Cup run. He tied Pavel Datsyuk for 3rd in points during the playoffs in his first ever NHL playoffs. The Wings had signed Brunner to give them that scoring umph and he seemed to be doing so.

X Factor(s): Brunner seemed to be ignited by the playoffs, after slumping in the regular season. His goal scoring abilities could have been further energized from making it deeper into the playoffs and having a shot at a Stanley Cup. So my above projections could have been conservative. Also, we did not yet know he was going to bolt for free agency.

Why Not Brunner: It would seem strange to award a first year player on a one year contract the playoff MVP award. There's also nothing to suggest that simply being a hot goal scorer during the playoffs means you have the greatest "value" for your team. Sergei Fedorov led the team in goals, points and GWG's during the 1997 cup, and that Conn Smythe was awarded to Mike Vernon. Fedorov lead the team again in goals and came in 2nd in points in the 1998 Cup run, and that Conn Smythe went to Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman.


Contender #2: Henrik Zetterberg
Actual Stats: 4 goals, 8 assists (12 points) and a plus 3 rating. He also had 1 game winning goal. His 8 assists and 12 points were team leading during the playoffs, and he was tied for 2nd place in goals. 

Potential Stats: Based on averages, Henrik Zetterbeard could have put up at least 8 goals and 24 assists for 32 points. We'll assume at least one of Hank's goals would have been a game winner and his point totals would have continued to lead them team.

Why Zetterberg for Conn Smythe: Well point production make him a solid contender, not to mention how big some of his goals were. Hank inherited the mantle of the Red Wings from Nick Lidstrom, who inherited it from Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman. Not to mention the added pressure of keeping the Red Wings playoff streak alive, Zetterberg had an insanely daunting task that he did not back down from. 

X Factor(s): Being the captain of the team certainly goes a long way. Yzerman in 98, Sakic in 96, Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Jonathan Toews have also recently won the Conn Smythe as team captains. Also, Zetterberg's ability to not only produce big points for the Red Wings, but also to be a major shut down force for opposing teams' top goal scorers radically increases his value. 

Why Not Zetterberg: As I said with Brunner, it isn't just about goal scoring. We've seen several goalies win the Conn Smythe, (Tim Thomas, Johnathan Quick, Mike Vernon - hell Patrick Roy is the only player to win the Conn Smythe three times). Also, there is a pattern of players not winning it more than once. Steve Yzerman only won it once, Nick Lidstrom only won it once. Claude Lemieux won it once. I'm not saying that he should have won it more than once, I'm more perplexed that he'd win it over the likes of Scott Stevens and Martin Broduer and have to wonder if Professional Hockey Writer's Association wouldn't maybe like to have that one back. 

We're faced with two big questions: Was Zetterberg as valuable to the Red Wings in this hypothetical as he was in the 2008 win and/or was there someone who was more valuable?

Contender #3: Pavel Datsyuk
Actual Stats: 3 goals, 6 assists (9 points) and a plus 2 rating. He had zero game winning goals but he was third in goals, tied for 2nd in assists and third in points. 

Potential Stats: Pasha could have produced 6 goals and 12 assists for 18 points. There's a good chance at least one of those could have been a game winner. 

Why Datsyuk for Conn Smythe: Because he's Pavel fucking Datsyuk. Doesn't matter that he wasn't leading the team in goals or assists or points; all of his goals and assists were crucial. Not to mention we also rely heavily on Datsyuk to be a shut down man for the other teams' top lines, and he has achieved a Draper-esqe status for "Oh shit, get him in there for this face off!" in crucial game moments. 

X Factor(s): Having not won the Conn Smythe before - rightly or wrongly - some might feel that Datsyuk is owed or due. He's won Selkes, he's won Lady Byngs, he's won Stanley Cups; the Conn Smythe would be appropriate on his mantle, too. Also, because he does shit like this. Twice.

Why Not Datsyuk: While goals and points aren't everything, it can hurt a player's chances when the expectations are a bit higher. Some felt that Datsyuk did not perform as well as he could have and should have in the playoffs, and in particular against Chicago where some Datsyukian goals could have easily changed the outcome. If he continued to struggle, or was thought to be struggling, it may have slipped away. 

Also, Pavel may be the victim of "Yeah, he deserves it, but _____ deserves it more"

Contender #4: Jimmy Howard
Actual Stats: Save Percentage: 92.4%, GAA: 2.44. 1 shutout, but sadly, no points. 

Potential Stats: I feel that those numbers are very accurate for the level of play we got from one James Tiberius Howard during the playoffs. Those numbers are slightly worse than Corey Crawford's (93.2% save, 1.84 GAA). So it's safe to say that with those kinds of stats, Howard could have taken us to the Cup. I think we can add at least 1 more shutout in there, as well. 

Why Howard for Conn Smythe: Without Jimmy Howard, we don't make it into the playoffs. While you can't exactly take into account regular season performance, it's hard not to with Howard. He kept the Red Wings in games against Anaheim and kept giving them chances to win that they capitalized on. He certainly demonstrated why the Red Wings signed him to the contract extension.

X Factor(s): After the Red Wings were eliminated, Kronwall expressed sadness that they couldn't have gone all the way for Jimmy. His own team wanted to win the cup for him, which suggests his team thought him the most valuable. Also, I'm pretty sure Corey Perry was put on suicide watch after this save. 

Why Not Howard: Howard did let in some goals that he should have made saves on. Giving up a 3 game to 1 lead against the Blackhawks, part of that has to rest on the goaltender's shoulders. His stats were extremely good, but the two goaltenders who made it to the Cup finals had better stats. Often times, to qualify for the Conn Smythe, a goaltender has to seem as though he even more above and beyond than perhaps a forward or defenseman. A goaltender has to steal the playoffs, and some could maybe argue that Howard wouldn't have performed to that level.

So there you have it. I did my best to be fair and equitable to all four. I'm very interested to see who you think would have won in a hypothetical 2013 Red Wings cup run. If you think another player would have been more worthy of the Conn Smythe, or just want to make a case for one of the players I listed here, please leave a comment or sent me a Tweet. 

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