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2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Who is the new Conn Smythe favorite?

Duncan Keith.jpg

Before this series started, I felt that the obvious early choices for the Conn Smythe resided with the Blackhawks in Jonathan Toews and Antti Niemi. After five games, it’s tough to include those two in the conversation.

Niemi hasn’t played poorly, but after two strong games to start the finals hasn’t exactly been as good as in previous rounds. Jonathan Toews, after having a point in nearly every postseason game for the Blackhawks headed into the finals, has struggled mightily against the Flyers.

So if it’s not Toews and it’s Niemi, who then? James and I set out to discuss our favorites for the award and what was really odd, in a series that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s great defense, two defensemen have risen to the top of the conversation.

James: Chris Pronger

Whether the Flyers win the Cup or not, Chris Pronger is the most valuable player of this year’s playoffs.

Rather than just picking the most productive player on the Cup-winning team, I think it’s wiser for a voter to simply close his or her eyes and ask this question: “If you could pick any player from the finalists to lead your team to victory, who would it be?” Unless you’re so hateful toward the often-dirty (or if we want to be politically correct, “rule-bending”) defenseman, is there really any way you could say that the Philadelphia Flyers would be in the Cup finals without Pronger?

He leads the playoffs in time on ice per game by almost a full minute with a stunning 29:01 per game, which accounts for almost half a contest. His 17 points would be a solid output for a forward and it leads all blueliners in the postseason. He kills nearly two penalties worth of time per night (3:57) yet is also a force on the point with an average of 4:27 of powerplay time per game.

Yet it’s not the numbers that make him the greatest candidate, but rather the psychological effects of his presence. From his smack-talking, to his gigantic hits and even the juvenile puck stealing antics, his shadow looms over every game both literally and figuratively. Want the best reason why the team stayed alive while their goalies went down like flies? It’s easy: because they have Chris Pronger, the guy who almost helped Jussi freaking Markkanen win a Stanley Cup.

Finally, as much as he’s worthy of karmic comeuppance, Pronger is also flat-out overdue for a Conn Smythe Trophy. In my mind, he should already be a two-time winner. He did everything for that Edmonton Oilers team ... he even scored a penalty shot goal. While the Anaheim Ducks got by without him when he was suspended, Pronger set the tone for that brutal bunch and promoted them from a solid playoff team to a dominant, terrifying force.

So, instead of throwing a dart at the Chicago Blackhawks roster or a list of high-scoring Philadelphia Flyers forwards, just make the obvious - if unpopular - choice. Pronger is the most valuable player of these playoffs, even if he may also be the most volatile and villainous.

Brandon: Duncan Keith

The numbers are certainly there. 16 points in 21 games, over 27 minutes of ice time a night, plus-3 for the postseason. But picking Keith isn’t about stats or numbers, it’s about what you see on the ice while watching him play.

I had the chance to see both games in Philadelphia in person and while neither went well for the Hawks I walked away with a completely different view on Duncan Keith as a hockey player. I always knew he was great, I always knew he was one of the best but I still don’t think I realized just how magical he really is.

Watching in person I was able to focus on Keith and not have to follow the puck and it was tough to find a flaw in his game. He’s in nearly the perfect position every single time he’s on the ice and there is rarely a wasted movement when he’s playing. Seeing the way he was able to close in on a loose puck, beating a Flyers player to a spot and making the perfect play on the puck to stop a scoring chance was just jaw-dropping to witness.

What does this have to do with the Conn Smythe? For one, he’s the anchor on an extremely talented blue line and while the rest of his team has faltered at times against Philly he’s always been a rock. His play never dropped off and when the Hawks were desperately trying to win two close games he was the one that was pushing his team forward. He may not have been successful, but when the rest of his team was struggling he was the one that found a way to take his game to the next level.

He may not be as outspoken as Chris Pronger nor as charismatic off the ice, but he knows how to take care of business when needed. He’s the most important player on a team poised to win the Stanley Cup, which is generally the definition of an MVP. He has not taken a penalty in six games, despite playing against a very physical and speedy opponent. He finds a way to make the perfect play nearly every chance he gets, and he is the steadying force that has led the Hawks to this moment tonight.


Since I’m running this show, and since I believe the Hawks will find a way to win tonight, then we’re going with Duncan Keith for the Conn Smythe.