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TRAIKOS: Makar and MacKinnon emerge as Conn Smyth Trophy favourites ahead of Stanley Cup final

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DENVER — Nathan MacKinnon or Cale Makar? 

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The Stanley Cup has yet to begin, but two members of the Colorado Avalanche have already emerged as early favourites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Considering that a player on the losing team has only won playoff MVP five times in the award’s 53-history, it’s probably a safe bet that Colorado has also emerged as the Cup favourites. Then again, a lot can change between now and when the championship gets awarded. 

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With the final set to begin on Wednesday, here’s a look at who has been the MVPs of the first three rounds — and who the betting favourites (courtesy of covers.com) are for the final and most important round:

Cale Makar 

(+180 odds)

With a team-leading 22 points in just 14 games — including two goals and eight points in a four-game sweep of the Oilers in the West final — it’s no wonder that Makar enters the Stanley Cup final as the Conn Smythe Trophy favourite. After all, this has been the 23-year-old’s breakout year. By this time next week, Makar will likely also win the Norris Trophy after leading all defencemen with 28 goals. But it’s not just the offensive numbers that have been impressive. Makar, who is averaging a team-high 27 minutes in ice time, ranks fourth among defencemen with 14 takeaways, leads Colorado with 32 blocked shots and is a plus-11. 

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Nathan MacKinnon 

(+210 odds)

If the Avalanche is going to prevent the Lightning from a three-peat, then Colorado’s best players will have to outplay Tampa Bay’s best. In other words, all eyes will be on MacKinnon, who after watching Sidney Crosby bring back the Cup to Nova Scotia all these years will be looking to carve out his own path to glory. Only Edmonton’s Evander Kane (13) has scored more goals than MacKinnon (11), who also has 18 points in 14 games, in these playoffs. But don’t expect that to last. With six goals and nine points in his past six games, keeping MacKinnon off of the scoresheet won’t be easy.

Andrei Vasilevskiy 

(+400)

The reigning MVP hasn’t been quite as spectacular as he was a year ago, when Vasilevskiy posted a 1.90 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage, as well as five shutouts. But he’s also not that far off. Vasilevskiy, who looked somewhat mortal in a first-round series against the Leafs, has a 2.27 GAA and a .928 save percentage. And keep in mind, Tampa Bay’s goalie put up those numbers while playing against Toronto and Florida — the top-two offensive teams in the NHL.

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Nikita Kucherov

(+400)

Kucherov, who has led the playoffs in scoring in each of the past two years, is currently ranked fourth overall with 23 points in 17 games. But that just means he could be saving his best for last. In last year’s final against Montreal, he had three goals and five points in five games. A year earlier, he had eight points in six games against Dallas. With eight points in six games against the Rangers in the East final, it appears he is heating up at just the right time. 

Steven Stamkos 

(+1,500)

Considering that he leads the Lightning with nine goals — eight of which have come in even-strength situations — in 17 games, you’d think the Lightning captain would have much better MVP odds, especially since voters like to spread the wealth around. And with Victor Hedman winning in 2020 and Vasilevskiy winning in 2021, you easily can make the case that it is now Stamkos’ turn to win. Not only that, but he is also very deserving. Stamkos, who has 15 points, has been a leader in every sense of the word. He had two goals in the series-clincher against the Rangers, ranks fifth on the team with 45 hits and has even dropped the gloves.

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Gabriel Landeskog 

(+2,000)

The winning team’s captain has claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy six times in the past 20 years. That’s just one of the reasons why Landeskog could end up as playoff MVP. Another reason? He’s scored eight goals and 18 points, has a team-best plus-14 rating and has delivered 49 hits. In other words, if there’s a toss-up between Makar and MacKinnon, look for Landeskog as a third option.

Mikko Rantanen 

(+1,500)

With Nazem Kadri likely done after having his thumb operated on, even more will be expected of Rantanen, who has been centring the second line with Artturi Lehkonen and Andre Burakovsky. That trio has combined for 12 goals and 33 points — with Rantanen contributing five goals and 17 points. Considering that Nathan MacKinnon will be seeing a lot of Anthony Cirelli, Rantanen’s offensive production could be more than just secondary.

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Victor Hedman 

(+2,000)

Two years ago, Hedman was named playoff MVP after scoring 10 goals and 22 points when Tampa Bay won its first of back-to-back championships. This year, he enters the final with two goals and 14 points. But with a plus-7 rating in his past four games against the Rangers, he appears to be heating up at the right time.

Ondrej Palat 

(+7,500)

The versatile winger, who is nicknamed Mr. Reliable by his teammates, has been just that in these playoffs. Palat has two game-winners, three empty-net goals and ranks second among Lightning forwards with 16 points in 17 games — with only one of those points coming on the power play. Put simply, he’s the guy you want on the ice in the final minute, regardless of the score.

Artturi Lehkonen 

(+10,000)

Every year, there is a player who comes out of nowhere and becomes an unlikely playoff hero. With six goals and 11 points in 14 games, Lehkonen has been that for Colorado. That being said, what would it take for the second-line forward to steal the MVP away from his star-studded teammates? Well, considering that Lehkonen has scored three game-winners, some more late-game heroics would help.

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