Hall of Fame, Hockey, Sports

50 Years of Misawarding the Conn Smythe

The awarding of the Conn Smythe in 2015 to Duncan Keith felt like a dose of sanity, he was well deserving of it. Unfortunately, since the award’s introduction in the mid ’60s, it hasn’t always been so obvious and oftentimes the writers responsible for voting for the award have picked odd, sometimes even terrible winners. I originally wrote this post once the 2016 Conn Smythe was announced and I have updated it for 2018.

So let’s look at the past half century and see when they got it right, when they got it wrong, and when they just threw up their hands and picked someone at random.

Note: Skater stats are relative to their team, goalie stats are relative to the playoffs as a whole, but with minimum game requirements: 2 games prior to expansion, 5 games prior to the adoption of four rounds, 10 games after that.

All information is from the indispensable Hockey Reference. Unless otherwise noted, ranks are relative to their teams, not to the overall playoffs.

If you want the short version, click here to go to the bottom of the page.


1965: Jean Beliveau, C, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 8G (led team), 8A (tied 2nd), 16P (led team)

Beliveau led the team in scoring by 3 points and the Habs used two goalies in the playoffs.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1966: Roger Crozier, G, Losing Team (Wings)

Line: 6-5, 2.34 GAA (4th out of 6th, minimum 2 games), 668 minutes played (1st)

Crozier played in every game but got pulled once. He put up a 2.34 GAA, which looks pretty bad for the era, and on further inspection it is – he was out-dueled by Worsley (who played for the lower scoring Habs, the Cup winners), at least in terms of GAA. Because this is the NHL, no shots were tracked back then, but it’s hard to see why Crozier was a better candidate than the following:

  • JC Tremblay: 2G, 9A (led team) for 11P (led team); ice time unknown
  • Gump Worsley: 8-2, 1.99 GAA (led playoffs, minimum 2 games), 602 minutes played (2nd)



1967: Dave Keon, C, Winning Team (Leafs)

Line: 3G (tied 5th on team), 5A (tied 5th) for 8P (tied 5th)

Because the NHL literally tracked nothing but individual goals, assists and PIM prior to 1968, we have no idea what to do here. Keon has a reputation as being a strong defensive forward back before such a skill was recognized as something valuable, but he has a reputation because of the voters, the same people who thought Roger Crozier deserved his Conn Smyhe, the same people who award the Norris to high scoring defensemen, and the same people who cannot decide what the criteria is for the Hart.

I have no idea whether or not Keon was such a defensive force that he neutralized Beliveau et al. Only way I’ll know that for sure is if I watch tape, which isn’t going to happen any time soon. (I should like to point out that I suspect not, as the Habs were not a great offensive team this year anyway…)

The one thing that is interesting here is, if Keon didn’t deserve this trophy, his HOF induction gets sketchier (it was already kind of sketchy for anyone who doesn’t think all the old Original Six stars should be automatic inclusions).

Here are some other candidates from the Leafs:

  • Frank Mahovlich: 3G (4th), 7A (3rd) for 10P (4th)
  • Tim Horton: 3G (4th), 5A (5th) for 8P (5th), ice-time unknown
  • Jim Pappin: 7G (led team), 8A (2nd) for 15P (led team)
  • Bob Pulford: 1G (10th), 10A (led team) for 11P (3rd)
  • Pete Stemkowski: 5G (2nd), 7A (3rd) for 12P (2nd)

Verdict: Controversial


1968: Glenn Hall, G, Losing Team (Blues)

Line: 8-10, 2.43 GAA (4th of 12, minimum 2 games), 1111 minutes played (1st)

At first glance, Worsley looks like he was a better candidate here too. The one advantage Hall has is his minutes played: over 1100 in 18 games, whereas Worsley had to play less than 700, was pulled once and didn’t start one game.

Here are some Habs who might have deserved it:

  • Yvan Cournoyer: 6G (3rd), 8A (tied for lead) for 14P (led team)
  • Jacques Lemaire: 7G (tied for lead), 6A (tied for 3rd) for 13P (2nd)
  • Gump Worsley: 11-0, 1.88 GAA (2nd), 672 minutes played (3rd)

Verdict: Controversial


1969: Serge Savard, D, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 4G (tied 3rd), 6A (4th) for 10P (4th)

If Savard played crazy minutes, then he absolutely deserved this. If he didn’t then maybe it should have gone to Beliveau (15P in 14 games). But we can’t know without someone getting us ice-time.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1970: Bobby Orr, D, Winning Team (Bruins)

Line: 9G (3rd, set single playoff record for goals by D), 11A (4th) for 20P (2nd)

You’re not going to talk me out of this. I should say, if Orr played tons of minutes, then he wins this over Espo (27P in 14 games, set single playoff record) but for me Orr is the best hockey player ever, so unless I see information challenging that (such as that he only played 20 minutes a game or something) I’d be hard pressed to say this was controversial.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1971: Ken Dryden, G, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 12-8, 3 GAA (3rd, minimum 5 games), 1221 minutes played (1st)

My father went to university with Ken Dryden so you could say I was raised to believe Dryden was the best goalie in NHL history. Well, it’s funny, because I’m starting to worry how true that was.

I think Espo (Tony edition) has a better case despite losing, and we can point out at least one of Dryden’s teammates who might have deserved it too:

  • Tony Esposito: 11-7, 2.19 GAA (1st), 1151 minutes played (2nd)
  • Frank Mahovlich: 14G (led team, set single playoff record), 13A (3rd) for 27P (led team, tied single playoff record)

Verdict: Controversial


1972: Bobby Orr, D, Winning Team (Bruins)

Line: 5G (tied 6th), 19A (set playoff record) for 24P (tied for team lead)

If a D ties as the leading scorer, he probably deserves MVP.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1973: Yvan Cournoyer, RW, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 15G (led team, set single playoff record), 10A (3rd) for 25P (led team)

Now as much as the player who sets the single season goals scored record for the playoffs should be rewarded, let’s briefly consider Dryden’s case here:

  • Ken Dryden: 12-5, 2.89 GAA (3rd, minimum 5 games), 1039 minutes played (1st)

He certainly deserved the Conn Smythe more than he did in ’71. Had Cournoyer not led the Habs in points and goals, I might have given it to Dryden.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1974: Bernie Parent, G, Winning Team (Flyers)

Line: 12-5, 2.02 GAA (1st, minimum 5 games), 922 minutes played (1st)

This is clear cut as it gets.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1975: Bernie Parent, G, Winning Team (Flyers)

Line: 10-5, 1.89 GAA (1st, minimum 5 games played), 922 minutes played (1st), 4 shut outs (tied single playoff record)

Parent didn’t play two games, but it’s still hard to argue. He had a better playoff (by GAA, a team stat) than the year before, and the Flyers’ leading scorer scored less than in 1974.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1976: Reggie Leach, RW, Losing Team (Flyers)

Line: 19G (set single playoff record, which stands to this day), 5A (tied 8th) for 24P (led team)

Leach has only one competitor this season, a familiar one:

  • Ken Dryden: 12-1, 1.92 GAA (1st, minimum 5 games), 780 minutes played (1st)

The Habs rolled to the Cup, which is why Dryden didn’t play that much. I’m torn here. If Dryden’s save percentage was out of this world, I’m not sure I can see how Leach earns it, despite the record-setting goals. On the other hand, if Dryden’s save percentage was pedestrian, Leach is literally the only other choice.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1977: Guy Lafleur, RW, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 9G (led team), 17A (led team) for 26P (led team)

A sound choice, depending on how much time Lapointe and Robinson spent on the ice, but there’s also this guy:

  • Ken Dryden: 12-2, 1.55 GAA (1st), 849 minutes played (1st), 4 shut outs (tied single playoff record)

Verdict: Controversial


1978: Larry Robinson, D, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 4G (5th), 17A (led team) for 21P (tied for team lead)

As I said above, any time your #1 D leads the team in points, it’s a safe bet he should win the MVP. Dryden had yet another great playoff so, for me, whether or not this was sane depends on how many minutes Robinson played and what Dryden’s save percentage was, both of which we do not know.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1979: Bob Gainey, LW, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 6G (tied for 3rd), 10A (3rd) for 16P (3rd)

As with the Keon, we are relying on the words of some notoriously untrustworthy sports writers here. However, the Selke was invented for Gainey so it’s safe to assume that Gainey was dominant defensively, when it’s a lot harder to say so for Keon. (Also, Keon had top 6 offensive numbers in 1967, at least Gainey has top 3 this year.) Dryden had a relatively bad year (by GAA) and Lafleur and Lemaire tied for the point lead.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1980: Bryan Trottier, C, Winning Team (Isles)

Line: 12G (led team), 17A (lead team) for 29P (set playoff record)

No brainer.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1981: Butch Goring, C, Winning Team (Isles)

Line: 10G (3rd), 10A (5th) for 20P (4th)

Goring was awarded the Conn Smythe for being a defensively dominant forward on a team that gave up 2.65 goals per game in the playoffs…

Meanwhile, Bossy destroyed the record for points in a single playoff by six whole points.

Let’s look at Goring’s competition:

  • Mike Bossy: 17G (led team), 18A (tied for team lead) for 35P (set playoff record)
  • Steve Payne: 17G (led team), 12A (3rd) for 29P (led team)
  • Denis Potvin: 8G (4th), 17A (3rd) for 25P (3rd), ice-time unknown
  • Bryan Trottier: 11G (2nd), 18A (tied for team lead) for 29P (2nd)

I am not convinced that Goring was so good that Bossy shouldn’t have won this, or Potvin for that matter.



1982: Mike Bossy, RW, Winning Team (Isles)

Line: 17G (led team), 10A (4th) for 27P (2nd)

This feels like a consolation prize for Bossy not winning it the year before. That and the voters’ obsession with awarding the trophy to the player who scores the most goals in a playoff in certain years (but only in certain years…).

  • Denis Potvin: 5G (8th), 16A (2nd) for 21P (3rd), ice-time unknown
  • Billy Smith: 15-3, 2.52 GAA (led playoffs, minimum 10 games), 1120 minutes played (led playoffs)
  • Bryan Trottier: 6G (tied 4th), 23A (set playoff record) for 29P (led team)

Verdict: Controversial


1983: Billy Smith, G, Winning Team (Isles)

Line: 13-3, 2 SO, 2.68 GAA (led playoffs, minimum 10 games), 962 minutes played (2nd, by 13 minutes)

So Billy Smith had a worse playoff than 1982 and they awarded him another consolation trophy, it looks like. The Isles played 20 games this playoff, not 16, it’s worth noting. (How did he steal more games if they played more games? My head hurts.)

Here are some other candidates:

  • Mike Bossy: 17G (led team), 9A (9th) for 26P (2nd)
  • Bob Bourne: 8G (tied 4th), 20A (led team) for 28P (led team)
  • Wayne Gretzky: 12G (2nd), 26A (set playoff record) for 38P (set playoff record)

Verdict: Controversial


1984: Mark Messier, C, Winning Team (Oil)

Line: 8G (tied for 4th), 18A (2nd) for 26P (3rd), +9 (tied for 11th)

The ostensible explanation for this award would be a narrative one: Messier moved from his “natural” position on the wing to centre, and this changed the team’s fortunes, a little like the Iguodala Finals MVP win in the NBA in 2015. Only there are things we can point to to show Iggy – sort of, kind of, may have, but not really – deserved the award – provided only people on the winning team should win – because the NBA is good like that. They collect oodles of evidence for us to use to make cases.

The NHL, on the other hand, didn’t track all that much back in the ’80s, and this is especially true in the playoffs, as 1984 was the first year they tracked goals for and against on ice in the playoffs while a player was on the ice, even though they’d been tracking it in the regular season for a decade and a half. So without ice-time, and without watching tape, it looks like a pretty bad choice because:

  • Paul Coffey: 8G (tied for 4th), 14A (tied for 3rd) for 22P (4th), +21 (led team)
  • Wayne Gretzky: 13G (2nd), 22A (led team) for 35P (led team), +18 (2nd)
  • Jari Kurri: 14G (led team), 14A (tied for 3rd) for 28P (2nd), +9 (tied for 11th)

(This was also the first year they tracked shots on goal in the playoffs, but the best save percentage of any goalie to play in at least 10 games was Mike Liut’s , which was what we would now think of as a middling .920, and that was over only 11 games.)

Verdict: Controversial (perhaps borderline TERRIBLE, but that spoils our concept of Messier as the Greatest Hockey Leader Ever, and I wouldn’t want to do that…)


1985: Wayne Gretzky, C, Winning Team (Oil)

Line: 17G (2nd), 30A (set playoff record) for 47P (set record which stands to this day), +28 (set playoff record which stands to this day)

Kurri tied the goals record, but Gretzky obliterated his own points record by 9 points – 2.61PPG, barely edging out Newsy Lalonde’s record of 2.6PPG, which had stood since the dawn of time, also known as 1919.

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as it ever gets


1986: Patrick Roy, G, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 15-5, 1 SO, .923 SV% (led playoffs, minimum 10 games), 1.92 GAA (led playoffs by an entire goal against), 1218 minutes played (2nd)

The Habs were not a high scoring team. Absolutely no controversy here

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1987: Ron Hextall, G, Losing Team (Flyers)

Line: 15-11, 2 SO, .908 SV% (tied 3rd, minimum 10 games), 2.77 GAA (5th out of 6 goalies to play 10 games), 1540 minutes played (led playoffs by nearly 200 minutes)

The only thing, literally the only thing, suggesting Hextall should have won this is that he played a ton and so saw the most shots. He saw over 200 more shots than Fuhr did, but otherwise Fuhr out-dueled him for the playoffs as a whole – same sv% but better GAA, better win-loss ratio. Hockey Reference doesn’t have the individual game logs, like they do for modern games, so there’s no way of me (easily) confirming if Hextall faced many of those shots in the finals. If he did, I understand why he won the award; otherwise, it looks pretty dumb. I mean, the Flyers were hardly a low scoring team, scoring 85 goals in the playoffs (i.e. 2 less than the Oilers). (The Flyers only won two OT games that playoff, so that’s not the reason either. Oh, and they had Mark Howe…)

Here are some better choices:

  • Glenn Anderson: 14G (2nd), 13A (tied for 3rd) for 27P (3rd), +13 (tied for team lead)
  • Wayne Gretzky: 5G (6th), 29A (led team) for 34P (led team), +10 (6th)
  • Mark Messier: 12G (3rd), 16A (2nd) for 28P (2nd), +13 (tied for team lead)

Verdict: Controversial (possibly TERRIBLE)


1988: Wayne Gretzky, C, Winning Team (Oilers)

Line: 12G (3rd), 31A (set single playoff record) for 43P (2nd most points in playoffs to date, 3rd most ever), +9 (4th)

Nothing to say here.

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as it ever gets


1989: Al MacInnis, D, Winning Team (Flames)

Line: 7G (5th), 24A (1 short of tying single playoff record for D) for 31P (2nd most for D to date), +6 (7th)

MacInnis led his team in points by 7, so even without knowing his ice-time, it’s pretty hard to say he didn’t deserve it.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1990: Bill Ranford, G, Winning Team (Oil)

Line: 16-6, 1 SO, .912 SV% (led playoffs, minimum 10 games), 2.53 GAA (3rd), 1401 minutes played (led playoffs by over 200 minutes)

So the big question here is whether or not the Oilers were a good enough team without excellent goaltending. The good news is that we can check game logs! And the truth of the matter is that in the final the Oilers walloped the Bruins:

  • 3-2 (triple OT)
  • 7-2
  • 1-2
  • 5-1
  • 4-1

In defense of Ranford, he had to deal with a 3OT in the final, and a 2OT game and two other OT games in the earlier rounds. But that still doesn’t really explain the award. Ranford faced an average of 30 shots a game during the playoffs which, as we know, really isn’t that crazy. (It’s hardly Hasekian.) In the first round he squeaked out a couple of 1-goal victories in a comeback over the Jets. And after the Oilers scored 13 goals in two games against the Kings, he had to do the same in the final two victories to complete the sweep. In those last two games, he made close to 40 saves per. Against the Blackhawks he out-dueled an unknown Ed Belfour, to the point where the Hawks gave up on him for the series, but Ranford was really only hammered with shots in one of the six games. In the final, aside from that triple OT game, it wasn’t really close, as you can see from the scores above, a combined margin of victory of 11 goals over only 5 games.

What I’m trying to portray is the narrative: Ranford came up big when he had to for the Gretzky-less Oilers, particularly against the Gretzky-led Kings. This is the only reason I can think of as to why he won the award. (Well, that and save percentage still really wasn’t that old, and we had yet to know what heights it would ascend to during the Dead Puck Era. I guess back in 1990, it was still possible to be impressed by a .912. Maybe.)

So, here are some other candidates, who are perhaps more deserving:

  • Mark Messier: 9G (5th), 22A (led team) for 31P (tied for team lead), +5 (11th)
  • Craig Simpson: 16G (led team), 15A (tied for 2nd) for 31P (tied for team lead), +11 (tied for 7th)

Verdict: Controversial


1991: Mario Lemieux, C, Winning Team (Pens)

Line: 16G (2nd), 28A (led team) for 44P (2nd most in a single playoff, all time), +14 (tied for 3rd)

Lemieux had 10 more points than Recchi, the second highest scorer on his team.

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as it gets


1992: Mario Lemieux, C, Winning Team (Pens)

Line: 16G (led team), 18A (2nd) for 34P (led team), +6 (tied for 4th)

Lemieux appears less dominant when we look at these numbers, until we realize he played 8 fewer games than everyone else. In fact, he played six less games than most of the other Penguins. So that begs the question, how many games can an MVP miss?

Given that Lemieux scored over 2PPG in this playoff, I think it’s okay he missed nearly 1/3 of the games. You may not, but I really don’t know that we can give it to any of these guys, all of whom played the full 21 games but none of whom managed 30 points or 15 goals:

  • Ron Francis: 8G (4th), 19A (led team) for 27P (3rd), +8 (2nd)
  • Jaromir Jagr: 11G (3rd), 13G (4th) for 24P (4th), +4 (8th)
  • Kevin Stevens: 13G (2nd), 15A (3rd) for 28P (2nd), +2 (9th)

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1993: Patrick Roy, G, Winning Team (Habs)

Line: 16-4, .929 SV% (2nd in the playoffs, minimum 10 games), 2.13 GAA (1st), 1293 minutes played (2nd)

This is the infamous 11 OT playoff run of the Habs. There’s really nobody else who could have possibly deserved this.

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as it gets


1994: Brian Leetch, D, Winning Team (Rangers)

Line: 11G (3rd, 1 goal shy of single playoff record for D), 23A (led team) for 34P (led team), +19 (led team)

As I’ve said before, when a D leads the team in scoring, he deserves the MVP.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


1995: Claude Lemieux, LW, Winning Team (Devils)

Line: 13G (led team), 3A (14th) for 16P (4th), +12 (3rd)

This award strikes me as a product of two things: the hockey writer’s love of goals (results) rather than assists and strong play that doesn’t appear on the score sheet (the process that creates them), and also hits/grit. The latter is particularly hard to accept in this era of concussions awareness.

Without ice-time (and without watching tape), it’s hard to consider Niedermayer’s and Steven’s contributions, but the same is true for Lemieux’s: was he hitting people and getting the puck back, was he being a dirty fucker and antagonizing anyone? My brief flirtation with childhood Leaf fandom had been ruined by Wayne Gretzky in 1993, so I wasn’t watching. (Also, baseball.) But without knowing how truly legal Lemieux’s frustrating but possibly dirty actions towards the other team were, it’s hard to take this seriously because:

  • Martin Brodeur: 16-4, 3 SO, .927 SV% (led playoffs, minimum 10 games), 1.67 GAA (led playoffs), 1222 minutes played (led playoffs)
  • Neal Broten: 7G (3rd), 12A (3rd) for 19P (2nd), +13 (tied for team lead)
  • John MacLean: 5G (5th), 13A (2nd) for 18P (3rd), +8 (8th)
  • Stephane Richer: 6G (4th), 15A (led team) for 21P (led team), +9 (6th) in one less game than everyone else



1996: Joe Sakic, C, Winning Team (Avs)

Line: 18G (one shy of single playoff record), 16A (led team) for 34P (led team), +10 (tied for 4th)

Sakic scored 12 more points than Kamensky, who was second on the team.

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as it gets


1997: Mike Vernon, G, Winning Team (Wings)

Line: 16-4, 1 SO, .927 SV% (4th in playoffs, minimum 10 games), 1.76 GAA (2nd), 1229 minutes played (first)

Vernon might not have deserved it, had there been some dominant scorer on the Wings, but they were a balanced team that year. Without ice-time for to assess the D, it’s hard to say anyone else but him deserved it.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1998: Steve Yzerman, C, Winning Team (Wings)

Line: 6G (tied 4th), 18A (led team) for 24P (led team), +10 (3rd)

Without knowing Lidstrom’s ice-time, it’s hard to say Yzerman didn’t deserve it.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


1999: Joe Nieuwendyk, C, Wining Team (Stars)

Line: 11G (led team), 10A (3rd) for 21P (2nd), +7 (tied for 4th), 424 minutes played (8th) for 18:27 ATOI (10th)

It took decades, but the NHL finally started recording ice-time, giving us at least some tiny semblance of what might be involved in the defensive side of the game. And with this first playoff with ice-time, we can see how silly the focus on goal-scoring as the be all/end all really is:

  • Ed Belfour: 16-7, 3 SO (1st, minimum 10 games), .930 SV% (2nd), 1.67 GAA (1st), 1544 minutes played (1st)
  • Dominik Hasek: 13-6, 2 SO (2nd), .939 SV% (1st), 1.77 GAA (2nd), 1217 minutes played (2nd)
  • Derian Hatcher: 1G (tied 11th), 6A (8th) for 7P ( tied 9th), +4 (tied 7th), 524 minutes played (4th) for 29:06 ATOI (3rd)
  • Mike Modano: 5G (tied 5th), 18A (led team) for 23P (led team), +6 (6th), 567 minutes played (3rd) for 24:40 ATOI (4th)
  • Sergei Zubov: 1G (tied 11th), 12A (2nd) for 13P (tied 5th), +13 (led team), 696 minutes played (2nd, led skaters) for 30:16 ATOI (2nd, led all skaters)

Nobody could have known it at the time – since the NHL never tracked it before – but Zubov’s near 700 minutes on ice set the gold standard. 19 years later, he still has played the 5th most minutes in a single playoff of any skater since the NHL started tracking time on ice. Not getting the Conn Smythe here, plus not getting a Norris, has probably irrevocably altered his Hall of Fame case – and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, dammit. He will never get in, because these idiots didn’t vote for him when he deserved the awards most.

But he isn’t the only one. Similarly, Modano set the gold standard. His 567 minutes remains 5th most in a single playoff for a forward –  a record he topped the next year. Modano was always an underrated defensive player but the Stars playing him D-level minutes in two finals suggests that he was vitally important, playing nearly 150 more minutes than Nieuwendyk in this particular playoff.

And Belfour has perhaps the best case, given that he was the best goalie in the playoffs this year.

A big reason Nieuwendyk was inducted into the HOF immediately (rather than in the ensuing years or ever) revolves around this Conn Smythe win…



2000: Scott Stevens, D, Winning Team (Devils)

Line: 3G (tied 8th), 8A (tied 3rd) for 11P (tied 4th), +9 (tied for team lead), 585 minutes played (2nd, led skaters) for 25:28 ATOI (3rd, by 3 seconds)

Had the finals gone to Game 7, Belfour would have had a really good case, tying the shut-out record, and besting Brodeur in save percentage, facing more shots in fewer minutes. However, it didn’t, so the choice should come from the winner.

No forward distinguished himself (nobody reached a point per game). The problem is that Stevens didn’t have an absolutely superior playoff either – Niedermayer was played as much, only he missed a game. Is that enough to give Stevens the MVP? Sure, Stevens scored more, but I think the main reason Stevens won is hits, and that’s something we might not find acceptable now. However, it’s kind of hard to pick someone else.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


2001: Patrick Roy, G, Wining Team (Avs)

Line: 16-7, 4 SO (tied single playoff record), .934 SV% (led playoffs, minimum 10 games), 1.7 GAA (led playoffs), 1451 minutes played (2nd)

Verdict: Uncontroversial


2002: Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Winning Team (Wings)

Line: 5G (tied 5th), 11A (tied 4th) for 16P (5th), +6 (tied 5th), 717 minutes played (2nd, set skater record for single playoff), 31:10 ATOI (2nd, led skaters)

I am a big believer that when you break the record in minutes played for a skater, you should get the MVP. The problem is that Hasek also broke the shut-out record.

Which is more important? In terms of big picture thinking, I learn towards the whole playoffs, and both ends of the ice.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


2003: Jean-Sebastian Giguere, G, Losing Team (Ducks)

Line: 15-6, 5 SO (2nd, minimum 10 games), .945 SV% (1st), 1.62 GAA (1st), 1407 minutes played (2nd)

Brodeur set the record for shutouts in a single playoff and his team won. But Giguere topped his save percentage by 11 points and did so facing over 70 more shots, despite playing over 80 minutes less than Brodeur. Oates and Sykora led the Ducks in points with 13. It’s true what everyone thought about this series: No Giguere, no Finals for the Ducks, no 7 game series.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


2004: Brad Richards, C, Winning Team (Lightning)

Line: 12G (tied for team lead), 14A (2nd) for 26P (led team), +5 (5th), 540 minutes played (2nd, led skaters), 23:28 ATOI (2nd, led all skaters)

This is pretty uncontroversial, given Richards not only led the team in points but led all skaters on his team in ice-time – an extremely rare feat for a forward). I just wanted to point out that Iginla set the single playoff  record for forward minutes this season. But he lost, so…

Verdict: Uncontroversial


2006: Cam Ward, G, Winning Team (Canes)

Line: 15-8, 2 SO (2nd, minimum 10 games), .920 SV% (3rd), 2.14 GAA (2nd), 1320 minutes played (1st)

Roloson seemed to be on pace to get the Conn Smythe regardless of whether or not the Oilers won – which is more narrative than fact, as Bryzgalov was far and away the best goalie of the playoffs – and I guess once he got hurt they figured they’d give it to Ward, despite his numbers.

The more damning thing, though, is that Gerber made it into 6 games for the Hurricanes, i.e. Ward was pulled 4 times and didn’t start twice, which is more than usual for a Conn Smythe-winning goaltender.

Let’s look at our other candidates:

  • Rod Brind’Amour: 12G (led team), 6A (tied 9th) for 18P (tied 3rd), +9 (tied 3rd), 596 minutes played (2nd, led skaters) for 23:52 ATOI (3rd, led skaters)
  • Chris Pronger: 5G (6th), 16A (led team), 21P (led team), 743 minutes played (set record for skaters in a single playoff only broken in 2014), 30:57 ATOI (3rd, led skaters)
  • Eric Staal: 9G (tied 2nd), 19A (led team) for 28P (led team), 0 (tied 9th), 495 minutes played (6th) for 19:48 ATOI (7th)

Brind’Amour came within ten minutes of breaking Iginla’s forward ice-time record. And we know he was central to team defense.

Pronger set the record for minutes played by a skater in the playoffs since the NHL started tracking. If there was ever a case for a skater on the losing team winning the Conn Smythe, it’s Pronger in this playoff. My memory of him was that he was playing at his absolute peak. I remember one sequence where he prevented a breakout by the other team and then orchestrated an Oilers goal with such fluidity (especially for a man his size) that I just stared in awe for a few minutes. If ever a skater on the losing team should have won the Conn Smythe it was Pronger this year.

Staal led all scorers but played 100 minutes less than Brind’Amour and 250 less than Pronger.

Verdict: Controversial


2007: Scott Niedermayer, Winning Team (Ducks)

Line: 3G (tied 8th), 8A (6th) for 11P (8th), +2 (tied 10th), 627 minutes played (2nd, led skaters) for 29:51 ATOI (5th)

This is a toughy: Pronger outscored Niedermayer and played barely more minutes per game, but played less games, and Beauchemin played barely more minutes too while playing one fewer games, so it’s entirely possible that both Beauchemin and Pronger would have played fewer minutes per game had they played every game. Nobody on the Ducks really distinguished themselves in terms of scoring (nobody was a PPG player). And Giguere really didn’t have that great a playoff.

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


2008: Henrik Zetterberg, LW/C, Winning Team (Wings)

Line: 13G (tied for team lead), 14A (2nd) for 27P (led team), +16 (tied for team lead), 497 minutes played (5th), 22:36 ATOI (6th)

This is pretty clear-cut. Lidstrom might have had a bit of a case, but Zetterberg scored over double the points.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


2009: Evgeni Malkin, C, Winning Team (Pens)

Line: 14G (2nd), 22A (led team) for 36P (led team, most points in a single playoff since 1993), +3 (tied for 8th), 503 minutes played (3rd), 20:57 ATOI (4th)

Most points in a single playoff in over a decade and a half.

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as a it gets


2010: Jonathan Toews, C, Winning Team (Hawks)

Line: 7G (5th), 22A (led team) for 29P (led team), -1 (tied 18th), 461 minutes played (5th), 20:58 ATOI (5th)

The only other person that might have deserved it was Keith, who played a ton, but who scored a lot less than Toews

Verdict: Probably Uncontroversial


2011: Tim Thomas, G, Winning Teams (Bruins)

Line: 16-9, 4 SO (tied 1st, minimum 10 games played), .940 SV% (led playoffs), 1.98 GAA (led playoffs), 1542 games played (led playoffs)

Thomas had the highest save percentage of any goalie to make the finals since 2003. Nobody on his team managed a point per game.

Verdict: Uncontroversial


2012: Jonathan Quick, G, Winning Team (Kings)

Line: 16-4, 3 SO (tied 1st), .946 SV% (set record for save percentage for starting goalie whose team made the final), 1.41 GAA (led playoffs), 1238 minutes played (3rd)

Verdict: As Uncontroversial as it gets


2013: Patrick Kane, RW, Winning Team (Hawks)

Line: 9G (tied 2nd), 10A (tied 3rd) for 19P (led team), +7 (tied for 8th), 481 minutes played (7th) for 20:56 ATOI (7th)

For a low scoring team like these Hawks, there are always other options than a winger:

  • Corey Crawford: 16-7, 1 SO, .932 SV%, 1.84 GAA, 1504 minutes played
  • Duncan Keith: 2G (13th), 11A (tied 1st), 13P (6th), +10 (tied 3rd), 27:37 (2nd, 1st skater)

Honestly, I think this was Keith’s award, since he played over 600 minutes, which has been accomplished about 30 times since the NHL started tracking ice-time.

Verdict: Controversial


2014: Justin Williams, RW, Winning Team (Kings)

Line: 9G (3rd), 16A (2nd) for 25P (tied 2nd), +13 (1st), 437 minutes played (10th), 16:49 ATOI (14th)

This Conn Smythe the one that inspired this post. Sure, it took me years to write it, but for the two years before I wrote the original version of this, the ridiculousness of was simmering in me. There were multiple better candidates, and I wrote an angry post about it. Here is that post:

“The Conn Smythe voters love clutch goals. At least recently, that appears to be the driving force in so many of the Conn Smythe winners’ resumes, whenever those players are not goalies. So Justin Williams has been given the award this year. Did he deserve it?

Here are the best players on the Kings this playoff by points:

  • Anze Kopitar: 5G, 21A for 26P, +9
  • Jeff Carter: 10G, 15A for 25P, +5
  • Justin Williams: 9G, 16A for 25P, +13
  • Marian Gaborik: 14G, 8A for 22P, +6

Now that looks reasonably fair: Williams scored the second most points and had the highest +/- of any King to score over 22 points (not that +/- means anything). So good job voters! Right?

However, lets remember that hockey is about both scoring on and not being scored upon. And, while there is still some debate about how to quantify defense, one way we can quantify overall importance – remember, this is the Playoffs MVP award, not a scoring title – is via Average Time on ICE (ATOI). Think of it as a proxy for “Most important skater according to the Head Coach.” Here are the best players on the Kings by ice time this playoff:

  • Drew Doughty: 28:45 ATOI; 5G, 13A for 18P, +2
  • Jake Muzzin: 23:24 ATOI; 6G, 6A for 12P, +6
  • Slava Voynov: 23:08 ATOI; 2G, 7A for 9P, +4
  • Kopitar: 21:13 ATOI
  • Carter: 18:16 ATOI
  • Gaborik: 17:46 ATOI
  • Jarrett Stoll: 17:03 ATOI; 3G, 3A for 6P, +6
  • Dustin Brown: 16:57 ATOI; 6G, 8A for 14P, +7
  • Williams: 16:49 ATOI
  • Alec Martinez: 16:37 ATOI; 5G, 5A for 10P, +1
  • Mike Richards: 15:33 ATOI; 3G, 7A for 10 P, -6
  • Willie Mitchell: 22:20 ATOI; 1G, 3A for 4P, +10 (in 18 games)

That’s all the players on the Kings to play at least 15 minutes per game while playing at least 400 minutes over the course of the four round playoff.

By ice time, Williams was barely a top 6 forward, though he was fortunate enough to score the second most points on the team. Moreover, Doughty played close to 30 minutes per game. Doughty actually was on the ice for 748 minutes. That’s 140 minutes more than Muzzin and 311 minutes more than Williams.

With Quick not having as great a playoff, this award was Doughty’s. Doughty set the record for minutes by a skater in the playoffs. Additionally, he was 5th on the team in points. Hockey is about both scoring goals and preventing them. I think this one was a lock for Doughty and I am still shocked he didn’t win.

Now, even if you were determined to hand the award to a forward – and forwards almost always play less than defense – because this team is some supposed offensive juggernaut, Kopitar is the obvious choice, for both his offense and his strong defensive abilities (and his clear centrality to the Kings). But I would like to implement a rule: whenever a D averages near to 30 minutes per game in the playoffs and the goalie sucks – as Quick has this year – that D should be the automatic choice for the Conn Smythe.

If I had voted, Williams would have been my 4th or 5th choice. Yet another disgraceful award botching by the voters.”



2015: Duncan Keith, D, Winning Team (Hawks)

Line: 3G (tied 10th), 18A (1st) for 21P (2nd), +16 (1st), 716 minutes (2nd, 1st skater), 31:07 ATOI (1st skater)

Keith played the 4th most minutes of any skater since the NHL started tracking ice-time and came in second on his team in points.

Verdict: As uncontroversial as it gets


2016: Sidney,Crosby, C, Winning Team (Pens)

Line: 6G (t-3rd), 13A (2nd) for 19P (2nd), -2 (t-22nd), 491 minutes (4th, 1st forward), 20:26 ATOI (7th, 1st forward)

This is an interesting one because it seems like, for the first time in decades (since Claude Lemieux?), a forward has been awarded the trophy for play not reflected on the scoresheet. I don’t necessarily have a a problem with that, as we could all see how important Crosby was to his team this year.

However, there are other reasonable choices:

  • Phil Kessel: 10G (1st), 12A (t-3rd) for 22P (1st), +5 (t-6th), 427 minutes (5th), 17:47 ATOI (8th)
  • Kris Letang: 3G (t-11th), 12A (t-3rd) for 15P (6th), +6 (t-4th), 664 minutes (2nd, 1st skater), 28:53 ATOI (4th, first skater)
  • Matt Murray: 15-6 in 21 starts, 1 SO, .923 sv%, 2.08 GAA

Letang was arguably the MVP (650 minutes as a skater is an exclusive club) but you could also convince me that his suspension means he doesn’t deserve the award. I wanted Kessel to win it purely for the Toronto Sun’s schadenfreude. I wrote at the time that Crosby was a reasonable choice but the consensus two years later seems to be that Kessel got robbed. I support that take.

Verdict: Controversial


2017: Sydney Crosby, C, Winning Team (Pens)

Line: 8G (3rd), 19A (1st) for 27P (2nd), +4 (t-10th), 466 minutes (7th, led forwards), 19:24 ATOI (7th, led forwards)

Crosby deserved 2017 Conn Smythe significantly more than the 2016 trophy. I think you can make a case for Malkin, who had one more point but played slightly fewer minutes, but it feels like a coin flip between the two of them, really. Neither goalie played enough and none of the D scored enough to compete with these two.

Verdict: Probably uncontroversial.


2018: Alex Ovechkin, , LW, Winning Team (Capitals)

Line: 15G (led playoffs), 12A (5th), 27P (2nd), +8 (5th), 497 minutes (5th, led forwards), 20:44 ATOI (6th, led forwards)

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Capitals celebrations and particularly how happy Ovechkin seems to be having finally won.  But I think there is a case to be made he didn’t deserve the Conn Smythe. (The narrative that he should have won is very strong, of course. Especially now.) There are two players to look at:

  • John Carlson: 5G (t-7th), 15A (3rd), 20P (5th), +11 (t-3rd), 615 minutes (2nd, led skaters), 25:38 ATOI (3rd, led skaters)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov: 12G (2nd), 20A (led playoffs), 32P (led playoffs), +12 (2nd), 493 minutes (6th), 20:33 ATOI (7th)

Ovechkin won because he lead the playoffs in goals. He also won because the narrative worked so well – he has been trying to do this for a long, long time. (And now that we’ve seen how he reacts to winning, only really terrible sports writers will question his desire to win.)

But Carlson was a vital part of this team, playing well over 100 minutes more than Ovechkin did, and scoring enough to make a case for himself. If it was between Ovechkin and Carlson, I’d probably say this is a toss up and it’s fine to give it to the guy with all the goals.

But Kuznetsov scored 5 more points than Ovechkin, while playing only 4 minutes less. Kuznetsov is only the 4th player since the lockout to score 30 points in a single playoff. (The others are Malkin, Briere and Couture.) That’s a number that was common in the 1980s and up through 1996, but over the last 20 years it’s a relatively rare feat. In fact, it just didn’t happen between 1997 and 2004. So, really, Kuznetsov is only the fourth player to score 30 points in  a single playoff in over 20 years. Sure, this is a completely arbitrary number, but emphasizing it gives some idea of Kuznetsov’s scoring prowess in these playoffs. Frankly, I think he has the clear case.

Verdict: Controversial


Here’s how it the verdicts of the voting results break down throughout history:

  • As Uncontroversial As It Gets: 8 times –  The voters had a super easy choice and picked it:
    • Gretzky in ’85 and ’88,
    • Lemieux in ’91,
    • Roy in ’93,
    • Sakic in ’96,
    • Malkin in ’09,
    • Quick in ’12,
    • Keith in ’15
    • and, if I was being really charitable, Parent in ’74.
  • Uncontroversial: 15 times – The voters picked the most obvious choice.
  • Probably Uncontroversial: 12 times – The voters probably picked the best candidate but I either don’t have enough information to verify or cannot make up my mind whether or not there was a better option.
  • Controversial: 11 times – The voters could have picked a better winner and this winner was demonstrably better by some metric that was available at the time.
  • Controversial to borderline Terrible: Twice – The voters could have picked a better winner who was demonstrably better by some metric, but a lack of information or, perhaps, a lack of confidence on my part is keeping me from rendering the award a ‘Terrible’
    • Messier in ’84,
    • Hextall in ’87.
  • Terrible: 5 times – The voters went insane and voted for someone who didn’t have a case to win the award:
    • Crozier in ’66,
    • Goring in ’81,
    • Lemieux, Claude in ’95,
    • Nieuwendyk, in ’99
    • and Williams in ’14.

I’m actually surprised that there weren’t more blatantly controversial awards however this is still an award given out by professional journalists and we should expect them to get it right most of the time. How did they do?

  • No-Brainer: 15.09%
  • Good Choice: 28.30%
  • Acceptable: 22.64%
  • Poor Choice: 20.75% of the time
  • Bad Choice: 3.77% of the time
  • Terrible Choice: 9.43% of the time

It’s certainly not possible that it will be a no-brainer every single playoff. I haven’t totaled all the no-brainers I think exist when the award went to someone else, but I don’t think it’s that high.

And it’s nice to see that the “terrible” choice has been made only 10% of the time. That’s significantly lower than I imagined before I first researched this in 2016.

But I still think it’s odd that nearly a third of the time the Conn Smythe winner is not the player who obviously should have won the. That’s not a great track record. It’s likely that, later on, when these players are consideration for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, that few actually remember whether or not the player actually deserved the playoff MVP. That’s a problem for me.

Did you enjoy this? I have a new hockey history podcast.


  1. Interesting article. Naturally, I don’t agree with all of it. I saw Dryden in 1971 (I am an old Pappy guy) and he was THE primary reason the Habs won that year. One little point; I think it is a bit contradictory to criticize hockey writers for voting for high-scoring defencemen for the Norris and then say that a defenceman who leads his team in scoring in the playoffs is probably the MVP. Enjoyed the article.

    1. Ha, fair enough. I guess I should be clear on my objection to the Norris voting. I think the trophy is for the best defenceman, and that isn’t necessarily represented by scoring alone. Sometimes a high-scoring defenceman is well deserving of the Norris but I think too often its just a way of making a decision without watching enough hockey. (At this point I should mention that I haven’t watched much hockey – before this year’s playoffs – for the last couple seasons so I am a hypocrite.) But if a defenceman leads his team in the playoffs in scoring, I think it’s a no-brainer that he should be the MVP. They’re different awards and I think that if a player who isn’t supposed to be leading the team in scoring is, it makes it an easy decision.
      Thanks for the comment.

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