Conn Smythe is Crosby's to lose

The Conn Smythe Trophy was first awarded in 1965 to the great Jean Beliveau, the Montreal Canadiens legend an appropriate first name to inscribe on a trophy that represents everything that matters most in hockey: clutch performances in the playoffs and playing your best hockey at the toughest time of the season.

Looking into my crystal ball, I bring you five possible recipients of the award this season.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

What a fitting end it would be to a season that was going so swimmingly for the world's best player until an errant puck broke his jaw March 30 and sidelined him for most of the final month of the regular season. The Pens are the dominant team in the East. Before his injury, Crosby was playing his best hockey since before his concussion two years ago and, frankly, distancing himself from the pack. If the Pens win it all, you can bet Crosby will have had a monster spring.

2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

To me, Doughty was the most outstanding player in the Stanley Cup finals last year. But the Conn Smythe is awarded for four rounds of hockey, not just one, and Jonathan Quick was the appropriate recipient of the award after his wire-to-wire play for the Kings over two months. But I have a feeling that if the reigning Cup champs are able to repeat, Canadian Olympic gold medalist Doughty will be the No. 1 reason.

3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

The winner of the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy could be back for more. Mind you, teammate Patrick Kane might have something to say about that if the Blackhawks win the Cup. Kane has been out of this world this season. No doubt these two players will be at the forefront of the minds of Conn Smythe voters if Chicago returns to glory. Put my money on Toews (the top forward at the 2010 Olympics), who is as clutch and consistent as they come when the stakes are high.

4. Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks

The 27-year-old goalie hasn't disappointed after taking over as the No. 1 man in net for the Canucks this season, with his .927 save percentage among the league leaders. The Canucks are playing their best hockey of the year, and if they're able to finish what they couldn't in 2011, you have to believe Schneider will be a major reason. Besides, why not make it two American goalies in a row to win the Conn Smythe?

5. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

For whatever reason, not everyone around the league -- especially in the East -- has woken up to the fact that Pietrangelo is one of the best blueliners in the world. A Stanley Cup championship for St. Louis would open a lot of eyes on that matter. If the Blues win it all, I find it hard to believe it wouldn't be in large part because of an MVP effort from their top defenseman.