This was scheduled to publish yesterday. It didn't. Now, it gets buried this morning above the Fly By. Oh well.
As a fan of a team still in the Stanley Cup Final, it's a little awkward to discuss the Conn Smythe Trophy. After all, it's rare that a player on a losing team wins the award for playoff MVP without winning the Stanley Cup too, so speculating about who on your team might win it is essentially saying, "hey, we're gonna win the Cup, too."
Especially in a year like this, where the Flyers have no clear cut favorite to win the award and it won't be like 1987 where the Flyers lost and Ron Hextall still took home the hardware, it's a little nerve-wracking to have this discussion. And this time of year, you kind of learn not to mess with superstition.
But with all of that said, there's really no other time to have this discussion then right now, while the Final is still playing out. And last time we had a speculative discussion like this, it seemed to work out just fine.
Without further adieu, then, let's take the jump and discuss which Flyers players have a chance of taking how the Conn Smythe Trophy should things go as planned over the next couple of days.
Chris Pronger, #20 -- defenseman, genuine bad ass
At this point, it's almost tough to argue against Pronger for the Conn Smythe. He leads the Flyers in minutes, of course, putting in just about 30 solid through 20 playoff games thus far, and in those games, he's made literally maybe about two or three mistakes. His on-ice resume in these playoffs is just impeccable, and without him in the lineup, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Flyers would be somewhere else right now, perhaps on a beach somewhere or scattered on golf courses around the continent.
But he also brings another element to the equation here. He's a calming force for his teammates off the ice as well. His calculated antics in media conferences take pressure away from other players. It focuses the media sideshow surrounding the playoffs and, more pointedly, the Final, around him and only him. And it works very, very well. One thing you learn with Chris Pronger is that if he's doing it, there's a reason. The man is good at what he does, no matter what he's doing.
Pronger's never won a Conn Smythe before. This might be his year.
Danny Briere, #48 -- forward, leading playoff scorer
A lot of people talk about Danny Briere's contract. Man, that guy makes a ton of coin. And whether it's Flyers fans complaining about it or outside people laughing as Danny walks to the bank, it all shuts up during the playoffs. They are wise to do so.
Briere is known as a playoff machine, and it's one of the main reasons he's worth the ridiculous salary that he collects. In these playoffs, he's racked up 24 points in 20 games thus far, including 11 goals and 13 assists. He makes his linemates look fantastic and he makes the win hockey games in the entire process.
Michael Leighton, #49 -- goaltender, naysayer-shutter-upper
A Flyers goalie in Conn Smythe consideration? Get the hell out of here. No, it's true. How could you argue against the numbers, really? 2.06 goals against average. .926 save percentage. Most importantly, he's 5-0 at home and 7-2 overall in these playoffs. Results, friends. Results.
Mike Richards, #18 -- forward, Captain extraordinaire
Mike Richards has, without a doubt, had a rough Final so far. He, along with his entire line, has looked rather invisible on the ice thus far. But only three games have gone by in the championship round, and there's still plenty more story to be written.
Besides the last three games, Richards has had himself a hell of a playoff. He virtually willed the Flyers to victory in the final game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Montreal and he's second in points behind Briere with 22. He's the team's unquestioned (yeah, I said it) leader and their driving force, even when he isn't necessarily playing all that well. He could win the award just on street cred alone, probably, but if he steps up in the next few games, he's going to have a very strong case.
Ville Leino, #22 -- forward, Detroit's worst nightmare
No Flyer rookie has had more points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Brian Propp in 1980. I repeat. Ville Leino currently sits tied with Brian Propp for most playoff points by a rookie in a Flyers uniform. With at least two more games left in these playoffs, Leino is likely to pass that mark, too.
His rise in these playoffs has been nothing short of a miracle. Left for dead in Detroit, a non-important midseason trade brought Leino to Philadelphia, and since getting a chance to play regularly in these playoffs, he's been an absolute force. He plays with confidence, he makes dazzling plays, he makes easy plays, he does it all. He's gone from the bench to a mainstay on the Flyers second line, and with help from Briere, he's made Scott Hartnell a better player.
As Ian Laperriere said after Game 3, in a quote that will never get old, "Detroit should've traded Datsyuk instead of you."
Claude Giroux, #28 -- forward, grilled cheese connoisseur
On Wednesday night, Claude Giroux scored the biggest goal of his hockey career. It's one that potentially saved the season for the Flyers in a season where there have been far too many of those type of goals. Oddly enough, Giroux had another one of those as well, the final Flyers goal of the regular season in the shootout during Game 82.
In the playoffs, Giroux's third on the team in points with 20, including 9 goals and 11 assists. The most impressive part of this, perhaps, is that he's doing it on a line with Arron Asham and either James van Riemsdyk or Dan Carcillo. With another big goal or two in a Final with plenty of big goals still to come, Claude has a bit of a case for the Conn Smythe as well.