In episode #336, Carl and Nick asked if the Conn Smythe Trophy has ever been awarded to a player who wasn’t top goal/point scorer or goalie with best save percentage?
Great question! The Conn Smythe is awarded to the player deemed most valuable for his team in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and in all but five occasions, has gone to a player on the winning side. Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association vote to decide who wins. Is it a foregone conclusion that the player who lifts the trophy will also be top of the stats chart? Let’s take a look:
Assuming I finish this before the 2021 winner gets announced, the Conn Smythe Trophy has been awarded 55 times. 19 times to centres, 16 to goalies, 11 to d-men, 8 to right-wingers and just once to a left winger. At time of writing, no mascots have been awarded the trophy. The last player to win the trophy who didn’t also get to lift the cup was Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and it’s never been awarded to a player who didn’t reach the final.
Comparing positions is always tricky for obvious reasons with goalies and forwards, but it’s not always so obvious with forwards and blueliners as the days of the stay-at-home D-man are long gone. Four of the winning defensemen were either top or joint top of the points table. For that reason, I’ve bundled all the skaters together. Keeps it simple.
The measures used are the same as on the NHL Stats page. Points, Goals & Assists for skaters. GAA, SV% and Shutouts for goalies. Let’s get to graphing:
What Percentage of Winners Topped the Table (Skaters)?
Topping the stats tables definitely helps your chances of winning the Conn Smythe, but it’s not the golden ticket. Over a third of skaters won without topping any of the main metrics. Examples include the first winner Jean Beliveau, Montreal’s Bob Gainey, humanity’s Nick Lidstrom, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (one of his two wins) and the most recent winner, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman among others.
As we’ve already mentioned, winning the cup massively boosts your chances too. In 2016 Sidney Crosby won the trophy as his Penguins won the Cup, but was he more of an MVP than Logan Couture who put up many more points (30 vs. 19), goals (10 vs. 5) and assists (20 vs. 14) in the playoffs? I’m not convinced. Given that the winner is voted for, there’s always a chance that it can be a bit of a popularity contest.
For blue-liners and goalies, the numbers aren’t as clear cut. Half of all goalies didn’t top any of the metrics, and for D-men, table-toppers were the slight minority rather than the rule.
Perhaps this is because stats are tangible, easy to read and easy to compare. The intangibles are harder to measure, probably because they’re intangible. This is how table toppers match up by different positions:
Putting the dangers of small sample sizes to one side (this is just a bit of fun), if you want to get your name on the trophy, maxing out your stats isn’t a deal-breaker, but it definitely helps. If you can do it while winning the Stanley Cup? That’ll help the cause too!