A look at Crosby and the other Conn Smythe-winning skaters without a goal in the Final
By now, I think most of the hockey world has gotten the yelling about Sidney Crosby out of their system. His Conn Smythe victory was the perfect way to end the NHL season, giving its fans one last chance to do what they love most—argue about things that don’t really matter.
Tim Culverhouse covered this a bit in his first blog, but the idea of Crosby as this year’s playoff MVP to most people (including me, to be honest) is kind of crazy. He wasn’t particularly strong in the first couple of rounds, at least not on the score sheet. And, as everyone has undoubtedly read or heard by now, Crosby finished without a goal in the Final.
The good news about his lack of scoring is that we can use that outlier stat to compare him to some Conn Smythe winners. Sean McIndoe, my favorite hockey writer out there today, did this with my boy Kessel, comparing him to other skaters who led their teams in scoring but failed to raise the MVP trophy. I’m going to take a slightly different approach.
Crosby is the third skater to win the award without scoring a goal in the final round, and to my surprise, all three incidences of this have come in the last 10 years. Also, all three were the team’s captain. Funny how that works out.
Into the way back machine we go…
2007-Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks
Playoff Stats (via Hockey-Reference.com): 21 Games Played, 29:51 Time on Ice, 3 Goals, 8 Assists, +2
Unsurprisingly, the first skater to ever win the award without finding the back of the net is a defenseman. Surprisingly, he’s the only one on the list.
Niedermayer was the anchor of a strong defensive unit for the Ducks, helping goalie J.S. Giguere finish near the top of the playoffs in save percentage and goals against, despite figuring to play the strongest opponents over the course of the tournament.
And while Niedermayer may not have found the back of the net during the final round, he certainly had an impact on the score sheet. He won game two of the Western Conference Final against the Detroit Redwings and Dominik Hasek with an OT goal, and didn’t stop there, forcing OT in Game 5 of the WCF, as the Ducks closed out the series in Game 6.(He also put them into the WCF with an OT goal to close out the Vancouver Canucks.)
So, there’s no doubting he had some clutch moments during that playoff run, and as Tim and I pointed out, it is an award for the whole playoff run. He also fared pretty well compared to his teammates, coming in third on the team in TOI while finishing in the top 10 in points (he’s also the only member of this list to finish with a positive +/- rating.) And, seeing how he’s a defenseman, albeit an offensively gifted one, the lack of goals in the final doesn’t seem as glaring.
2010-Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Playoff Stats– 22 GP, 20:58 TOI, 7 G, 22 A, -1
While Captain Serious’ win was only a few years ago, it still surprised me to recall that he didn’t score in that Stanley Cup Final against the Flyers. It’s funny to look back on that series now, with the benefit knowledge of the Blackhawks’ dynastic decade.
After Toews raised the Conn Smythe and the Cup, ESPN asked if Chicago’s “search for a superstar might have ended” with Toews and his dominating playoff run. We wondered if the series pitting the Flyers and the Blackhawks was a fluke, or a sign of things to come (turns out it was a little of both, really. The Flyers haven’t exactly dominated the East has Chicago has the West.)
But make no mistake, Chicago’s appearance was (obviously) no fluke, and they had certainly found their franchise cornerstone in Toews, who really did dominate during that playoff run. While he may not have found the back of the net in the Final, he still managed to lead the team during the playoffs in both points assists with 29 and 22, respectively, and finish fifth on the team in playoff goals with 7.
Really, starting in the 2010 regular season, continuing through that remarkable playoff, and on through to the current day, Toews has shown why so many people (myself included) think he’s the best all-around player in the NHL. So that makes this pretty award pretty tough to argue with.
In fact, some might make the same argument for…
2016- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguin
Playoff Stats: 24 GP, 20:26 TOI, 6 G, 13 A, -2
Back to this year’s Final. What are we to make of Crosby as the Conn Smythe winner?
As Culverhouse pointed out, he didn’t lead the team in goals or points or assists during the playoffs, but allow me to play devil’s advocate a bit here. When you add it all together, he did finish second in points, so it was not as if he was a ghost during the playoff run.
And yes, he did finish with a -2, while Kessel finished with more goals, one fewer assist and +5, so as far as forwards go, it seemed as though Kessel outperformed Crosby, especially taking the whole playoff run into account.
I still think it should have gone to Phil first and Murray second. But, as was the case with both Niedermayer and Toews, he’s the captain of the team, and, like Toews, is the undisputed best player on the roster (Patty Kane is great, but he doesn’t compare to the full package that JT provides.)
As much as it pains me to type this, he might even be the best player in the NHL. And that has to count for something.
And, in another similarity, all of the teams led by these goal-less Conn Smythe captains won the Final in pretty dominating fashion, with the Ducks and ‘Hawks both closing out their opponents in five games, while the Penguins looked like the better team throughout their six-game tussle with the Sharks.
I still don’t think Crosby should have won the Conn Smythe. But at least he’s in some pretty good company.