The Panel: Thomas ready to return?
ST. LOUIS — It’s become quite the Conn-undrum for Conn Smythe Trophy voters.
If the Blues are able to pull it off and hoist Lord Stanley for the first time in franchise history, who should take home the hardware as the playoffs’ most valuable player?
Last year, it was down to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov from the Capitals. Tuukka Rask would be the clear front-runner if the Bruins complete the comeback.
But it’s wide open for the Blues. There is no clear cut winner. The list of candidates is probably five strong - and they each have their own merits.
In other words: Buckle up. It’s going to be interesting.
The difficulty is voters from the Professional Hockey Writers Association must weigh a player’s impact on the entirety of the playoffs and not just the Stanley Cup Final.
The Blues are the only team in the NHL with a Conn Smythe winner but no Stanley Cup banner. “Mr. Goalie” Glenn Hall won in 1968 in a losing effort when the Blues were swept by the Canadiens.
That could all change on Sunday.
Let’s take a look at the Blues candidates, in alphabetical order:
Stats: 24 GP, 15-9-0 record, 2.46 GAA, .913 SV%
Pro: “Winnington” could become the first rookie goaltender ever to win all 16 games required for the Stanley Cup (Patrick Roy won 15 of 16 in 1986) … The Bounce Back Kid has a .937 save percentage this season following a loss … The Blues are 7-1 in Games 5-7 in series this spring and Binnington hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any game … Made 59 saves on 62 shots in the Final after getting pulled in Game 3 … While the rest of the Blues candidates were hot and cold, Binnington was making saves the entire playoffs.
Conn: Binnington was yanked in Game 3 of the Final after allowing five goals on 19 shots … He would have the lowest save percentage of any Conn Smythe winner since fellow rookie Cam Ward in 2006. The four goalie winners since 2000 averaged a .935 save percentage … Binnington hasn’t been the best goalie in the series in two of the four rounds; Ben Bishop was better in Round 2, Rask has outplayed him in the Final.
Quote: “Unbelievable. I mean, he won one for us here. It was a huge game by him. Very impressive. I don’t really know, I could talk about that performance all day. It was unreal. Good for him. That was awesome.” — Colton Parayko after Game 5
Stats: 24 GP, 6 goals, 14 assists, 20 points
Pro: O’Reilly leads the Blues in points this postseason … He has been a beast in the Stanley Cup Final, singlehandedly outscoring the Bruins’ top line, 3-0, at even-strength … There isn’t a facet of the Blues’ game that O’Reilly doesn’t touch as a key faceoff man and penalty killer … Set the tone in Game 4, coming off a 7-2 loss, when he nearly netted a hat trick - including the first goal 33 seconds after puck drop.
Conn: O’Reilly collected just three goals before the start of the Final. He didn’t score at all against the Stars in Round 2 and just once against the Sharks in the West Final … His faceoff win percentage is under 50 per cent, which is significantly lower than his regular season (57) and career (55) averages.
Quote: “Ryan O’Reilly came in and has been the consummate professional from Day 1. He taught Vladimir Tarasenko and every single player in that room to play the right way.” — Brett Hull
Stats: 24 GP, 2 goals, 14 assists, 16 points
Pro: Pietrangelo is the Blues’ dark horse candidate. The captain has been St. Louis’ most consistent defender, taking on all the big matchups … Pietrangelo has also contributed eight primary assists, fired 71 shots on net, and has blocked 44 shots in the postseason … Pietrangelo has averaged 25:43 of ice time … He has the same number of playoff points as Tarasenko.
Conn: Pietrangelo has had an up-and-down Stanley Cup Final. He also particularly struggled against the Sharks in Round 3.
Quote: “Going through what he went through this year, having triplets in the summer and then get off to a bad start, there was a lot on his plate. But he was able to put it all in its proper perspective and lead us at the most important time of the year.” — GM Doug Armstrong
Stats: 24 GP, 12 goals, 6 assists, 18 points
Pro: Schwartz leads the Blues in goals … He is the first player since Johan Franzen in 2008 to net two hat tricks in one playoff run … Schwartz rebounded from a career-worst six per cent shooting season to nearly 20 per cent in the playoffs … Schwartz’s game-winner with 16 seconds left in Game 5 in Winnipeg in Round 1 setup his hat trick in Game 6 that grounded the Jets … Ten of Schwartz’s 12 goals have come at even-strength.
Conn: Schwartz entered the Stanley Cup Final as the Blues’ clear favourite for the Conn Smythe. He’s been held without a goal in the series - and six straight games without a goal - losing a lot of the lustre on his candidacy.
Quote: “His shooting percentage was half his career norm. We talked about how it would eventually even out. Well, it never did in the regular season. But then came the playoffs.” — Schwartz’s agent, Rand Simon
Stats: 24 GP, 11 goals, 5 assists, 16 points
Pro: The Tarasenkshow has been at his best when it matters most, a true Russian Tank in the final two rounds … Tarasenko has 11 points in his last 11 games, including six goals … Tarasenko reeled off an eight-game point streak extending into Game 2 of the Cup Final … He has also been a physical presence, laying big hits both on the forecheck and in the neutral zone.
Conn: Tarasenko was really rather quiet for the first half of the playoffs. In the first two rounds, he netted five goals and zero assists in 13 games … At one point, coach Craig Berube said Tarasenko needed to “go out and get it” instead of “waiting for it.”
Quote: “Ovechkin last year, Vladdy this year. Vladdy’s been a real good player for us in the playoffs. Not just the goals, but just his all-around effort and play without the puck. And his commitment to defence and being a physical player for us.” — Craig Berube
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli