June 08, 2010
If the Philadelphia Flyers rally to win the Stanley Cup, one of their players will win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
It could be Danny Briere(notes), who is one point off the playoff lead in scoring and has four game-winning goals. It could be Mike Richards(notes), the stalwart captain who's had more significant moments than Briere in the playoffs.
It would be, however, Chris Pronger(notes): Leading scorer among defensemen in the postseason (18 points), the foundation for the second-best defensive team in the 2010 playoffs and a veteran leader who's been lauded by peers, media and even his harshest critics.
But if this revamped Chicago Blackhawks team has, in fact, relocated its cajones and wins one of the next two games to capture the Chalice, can Pronger still win the Conn Smythe in a losing effort?
Maybe. But there's no question he'd deserve it.
The last player to win the Conn as a finals loser was J.S. Giguere with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003, becoming the fifth player in NHL history to do so. He was a miracle-worker in the previous rounds, backstopping an underdog Anaheim to a seventh game of the finals against the New Jersey Devils. He won the Conn based on the earlier rounds, the lack of a clear-cut candidate from the Devils and because he was the feel-good story of the playoffs.
Pronger isn't the feel-good anything — he's just good. And like in 2003, it can be argued that the Blackhawks don't have an overwhelming choice for the Conn Smythe.
Duncan Keith(notes)? Justin Bourne made the case Monday and it's a solid one, augmented by the "Duncan Teeth" hockey legend born in the previous round. He's gotten better as the postseason has rolled along, and wouldn't be a bad choice — but he's been the second-best defenseman in the postseason.
Of the four, Toews is likely the winner based on how good he was before the finals and how the voting media still has a teenage crush on him from his Olympic efforts. In fact, he'd win it in a walk ... were in not for Pronger dominating the Blackhawks' top line in four of the five finals games.
In 14 postseason victories for the Flyers, Pronger has two goals, eight assists and is a plus-15. The Canadian Press offers more of his stats-based case:
Pronger's size, nastiness, skill and experience are the main reason the Flyers reached the final after qualifying for the playoffs with a shootout win in the last game of the regular season. The future Hall of Famer did the same with Edmonton in 2006, losing that one in Game 7 to Carolina.
He's got the numbers, but he also has the intangibles. Leading by example through the adversity of goalie injuries and 3-0 deficits. Dominating the Chicago top line to the point of its explosion in Game 4. Even PuckGate was a moment of leadership, changing the conversation from the Flyers' 0-2 hole to his clownish antics. Ask his teammates, and they appreciated the calculated genius of the stunt.
At this point, we arrive at the inevitable question: Can a player who played, perhaps, the worst game of his career in Game 5 of the finals still win the MVP award?
Pronger's been awful twice, actually: His minus-5 in Game 5 and his minus-3 in Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens. He's also posted a two-point, plus-3 effort in Game 4 against Boston was a plus-4 in Game 4 of the finals. Which is to say that, like any player that's played 22 games and logs about 30 minutes a night, he has his highs and lows.
And how does one bad game in the finals torpedo Pronger's candidacy yet, four bad games from Toews get a pass?
These NHL awards are what you make of them. I happen to think the Conn Smythe goes to the player who is adjudged to have had the greatest impact on his team's success, rather than just the "best" player from the winning team.
Outside of Jaroslav Halak(notes) (remember him?), no player in the postseason has meant more to his team than Chris Pronger. He's got the numbers, he's got the significant moments and he's near-unanimous respect for his efforts in the postseason.
Love him or (more likely) hate him, no one comes close to the impact he's had on these playoffs.
Chris Pronger for Conn Smythe, win or lose.