2021 NHL Playoffs: 4 Conn Smythe Front-Runners

2021 NHL Playoffs: 4 Conn Smythe Front-Runners

The field of postseason MVPs in the NHL is winding down and emerging stars are mixing with veterans to carry their team’s playoff push forward.

Jun 15, 2021 by Jacob Messing
2021 NHL Playoffs: 4 Conn Smythe Front-Runners

With the Conference Finals underway, the field of postseason MVPs is winding down and emerging stars are mixing with veterans to carry their team’s playoff push forward.

FloHockey brings you the front-runner for each of the four remaining teams in the 2021 NHL Playoffs, what they are bringing to the table, and how they have helped carry their team to the Conference Finals.

New York Islanders

Front-runner: Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Islanders hockey may not be the most action-packed brand, but it’s a winning brand. Built on defense, accountability, and patience, the Islanders have stifled offensive opponents and been rewarded with their offensive chances through defensive prowess.

There may not be a better talent more primed for that role than Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The 28-year-old has never been tasked to carry the offensive load, rather his two-way tenacity has kept him in a well-suited depth role.

But he’s emerged as the leading scorer for the Islanders during their current playoff run and holds a five-point lead in the often-criticized plus/minus metric with a plus-11, one behind team leader, defenseman Scott Mayfield.

In other words, Pageau is doing it all for the Islanders and is a key reason the team is able to contend with the consistent underdog label, especially without captain Anders Lee.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Front-runner: Nikita Kucherov

All respect due to goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, but as the playoffs’ leading scorer following the lack of any regular-season action gives Nikita Kucherov the nod — regardless of the speculation around his health and the salary cap pre-playoffs.

Kucherov finished as the postseason leading scorer in 2020, helping lead his Tamp Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup title, but the unmatched playoff production on every inch of the ice earned defenseman Victor Hedman the trophy.

Vasilevskiy has stated his case through the first two rounds, but with other netminders having comparable numbers the needle leans toward Kucherov.

Kucherov’s 19 points through 13 games are six more than the next closest player remaining in the playoffs, which are teammates Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos, each with 13.

He’s been on a different level since his return and is doing his part in the team’s pursuit of successfully defending the title.

Montreal Canadiens

Front-runner: Carey Price

The Canadiens have long been built on the success of Carey Price, who after a pair of down years—relative to the standards he had previously set for himself—is proving again he’s the backbone of the team.

Built largely on a defensive system similar to the mission statement of the Islanders, the forwards in Montreal have done their parts in their reaching of the conference final, but there remains no outlier.

But Price’s nod is justified with his .929 save percentage, third-best in the playoffs with the second-most shots against. Despite the 4-1 loss in Game 1 against Vegas this round, Price’s efforts shone through immensely in what could have been an 8-1 game with a less-focused goalie.

If the Canadiens continue their push and remain the last team standing, Price’s efforts will be well-rewarded and he will have re-established himself among the league’s best in the crease.

Vegas Golden Knights

Front-runner: Marc-Andre Fleury

There is no other player one can hypothetically remove from the Golden Knights that would have a bigger impact on the on-ice product. Fleury’s continued success at the age of 36 is why Vegas remains among the finalists each year.

Fleury is deserving of all three Stanley Cup rings he holds and is just seven wins removed from his fourth title. His edge is far from dull—sword pun intended—and his 1.84 goals-against average leads all remaining goalies, as does his ice time, and nine wins.

The goalie beloved known as “Flower” has been at his best these playoffs, even when the team in front of him has wavered at times. He stifled a young run-and-gun Minnesota Wild team that captured an unexpected playoff spot with ease.

Then he shut down Hart finalist Nathan MacKinnon and his highly talented and immensely offensive Colorado Avalanche squad.

Fleury is the arguable front-runner of the front-runners and is in the top position of deserving playoff MVPs.

But there is plenty of playoff action remaining in the NHL.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.