The NHL is the only major sport that gets it right.
The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the MVP of the entire playoffs, not just the final series. To give an MVP award solely based on one game or one series seems short-sighted and silly.
Jermaine Dye was the World Series MVP for the Chicago White Sox last October as they swept the Astros. MVP in a sweep? Baseball should follow the NHL's lead and have an MVP for the entire postseason. Paul Konerko or Freddy Garcia were there in every playoff series for the White Sox. They should have been cited for their entire postseason effort.
A year before, Manny Ramirez was named World Series MVP for the Boston Red Sox as they swept the St. Louis Cardinals. Anyone who followed that postseason knows Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and David Ortiz were, to a larger degree, more playoff heroes than Ramirez. They deserved a cool looking trophy to put in their house.
So, be thankful the NHL gets it right and rewards two months' worth of excellence, not a week's worth. The Stanley Cup is the ultimate reward, but the Conn Smythe is validation of showing up in the most important games. A cool looking trophy that says, "I was the best in the games that mattered the most." Here are the players who still have a shot to have that trophy.
Dwayne Roloson: The Oilers are where they are because of where goalie Roloson is. He's played every minute for the Oilers and has a .931 save percentage. And yes, he is a free agent this summer. Every round has made him more money. Roloson made $1.6 million this past season. The only thing that will hurt him is his age. He turns 37 this fall. That will probably keep his contract at three years. Three years for $9-12 million? Sounds about right.
Chris Pronger: He has 17 points in 17 games, a plus-9, and 536:47 played. Pronger has reestablished himself among the elite defensemen in the NHL. And the Oilers have him for four more years at $6.25 million. Zdeno Chara will sail past that figure this summer. It's just another example of why signing a long-term deal will usually cost a player money, even if it gives them security in a very physical game. If the Oilers go on to win the Stanley Cup, my guess is that Pronger will win the Conn Smythe.
Chris Drury: Drury was born and raised to win. He had a loving home, a prototypical older brother as a role model and an environment of competitiveness and support. When Drury was 12, he pitched in the Little League World Series championship game and showed that day what has been true ever since: The ball doesn't hold Chris Drury, Chris Drury holds the ball. The Sabres' leader holds the game. That's why he has scored a goal in 28 percent of his regular-season games and 36 percent of his playoff matchups. That is a sign of someone holding the game as opposed to the game holding him. I believe, despite winning the Little League World Series, an NCAA championship, the Hobey Baker, Calder Trophies and a Stanley Cup, winning a Cup and a Conn Smythe with the Sabres would be his finest accomplishment to date.
Daniel Briere: If Buffalo can come back from a 3-2 series deficit to Carolina and advance to the Cup finals, and Briere posts four or five important goals in a seven-game series, he could swipe the Conn Smythe. As of Monday, Briere is tied with Drury for the team lead in playoff points with 17. Drury remains the Buffalo favorite and goalie Ryan Miller the dark horse.
Rod Brind'Amour: All karma is pointing toward the Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup. If that is the case, a forward will win the Conn Smythe, and the forward with the best chance is Brind'Amour. It is very, very rare that a forward leads a team in ice time, but that is what Rod the Bod is doing this spring. He is continuing his amazing power-play year in the postseason. During the regular season, Brind'Amour had 19 power-play goals, a career high. The season prior, he had one power-play goal. One! In the same number of games (78). For some reason, Brind'Amour stopped shooting when he first became a Hurricane. This season, he's found his scoring touch, planting 31 goals for his first 30-goal season since 1997-98. As of Monday, he's third in team playoff points with 13.
Eric Staal: Staal is the Hurricanes' best offensive player. He has size, speed and hands. A monster Stanley Cup finals could still net him a Conn Smythe. Heading into Tuesday's Game 6, Staal leads all playoff scorers with seven goals and 13 assists. But if it is close, Brind'Amour will likely win the hearts and minds of the voters as a man whose all-around game was much too valuable to ignore.
The Mother of All Mailbags
It is interesting to me how silent you and your readers have been about the conduct of the San Jose Sharks fans in their booing of the Canadian national anthem. You come off as a man of integrity and conscience, so it intrigues me how this one managed to slip by. I decided to let it go for a week to see if you would get to it, belatedly.
You were vocal during the World Cup of Hockey when Canadians in Vancouver raucously cheered against the Americans. That is to be expected -- you always promote American hockey; however, this unquestioned promotion of American hockey has blinded your judgment. I expected to see at least one mention of how this conduct by the Sharks fans was frowned upon and there is no place for it in the sport of hockey. Or perhaps you might give a nod to the fans in Edmonton who responded by cheered the American anthem to the point where it was unable to be heard. Either way, I was disappointed.
I don't care if people boo anthems. I wouldn't because: 1) I'm not a booer; 2) I view anthems as gentle reminders, a nudge, of men and women who have died in battle. Courageous, selfless acts make my eyes wet, and that's why, at times, you see e-mails in this space from places like Iraq. But, that's me. Others might think of baked goods, or perhaps, what Jean Beliveau might be eating at that very moment. Anthems are just songs and it is just a sporting event. San Jose fans were booing the Oilers, not Canada, its people or Gordon Lightfoot.
Another reason why I wouldn't boo is because I love singing "O, Canada." I have since I was 7. My issue with Canadian hockey fans at the World Juniors was not booing The Star-Spangled Banner. I could care less. My issue was booing teenagers and openly rooting for Russia and the venom that seemed to be behind it. I never mentioned booing songs. Although Nelly Furtado's new song deserves to be booed. The video no, but the song, yes.
Miss you guys and NHL 2night -- wish it was back. Do you think that Nicklas Lidstrom will take a little less money to stay with the Red Wings? He should give them a hometown discount so they can sign a decent goaltender. Who do you see not being in a Detroit uniform next year? What would you think about trading Pavel Datsyuk and Jim Howard to Florida for Luongo? I think that would be a great trade.
Nicklas Lidstrom made $7.6 million last year. He turned 36 in April. I don't know how long his brain and heart are telling him he wants to play. My sense is Lidstrom doesn't have four Bentleys and six houses. He probably has plenty of money in the bank. Of course, he should retire a Red Wing, but I never believe a worker should take less from a company that is worth hundreds of millions. Zdeno Chara is going to get a five-year, $37 million contract from someone. I see Lidstrom signing a two-year, $15 million deal. He might sign a one-year deal and go one year at a time. If I were his agent, I would wait for Chara's deal to surface because he will sign quickly. Without question, I would trade Pavel Datsyuk and Jim Howard for Roberto Luongo. Datsyuk is a beautiful player to watch, but he has three goals and 12 assists in 42 career playoff games. He has zero playoff goals in the last three postseasons (21 games). I would trade for Luongo and sign Marc Savard. The Wings would be better off.
My 4-year-old just started skating and, as you know from experience, this is a very special time. We've had a blast at several AHL games here in Chicago, but no NHL. I think next season (5-6 years old) is time to step it up for my guy. I'm hoping you can help me out.
Your mission: Recommend one first NHL road trip. Two teams and an arena. Anywhere the NHL plays, except Chicago or Detroit. A kid-friendly spot to catch dinner would be a bonus.
I would drive to Toronto for a Saturday night game against the Canadiens (441 miles from Chicago to Toronto). Arrive at the Hockey Hall of Fame when the doors open, which is 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays. $13 for you, $9 for Sparky. Stay there until noon. Buy Sparky a mini-stick and a miniature Stanley Cup. From there, go to Wayne Gretzky's restaurant on 99 Blue Jay Way. Have lunch. Go back to the hotel and lay down with Sparky. He'll play with his new mini-stick for a bit and then hopefully doze off for an hour or so. Wake up, shower and head to the game. That will be the best day with your son to date.
When are the Jackets supposed to be good? We've been hearing for the past two seasons how they're on the verge of making an impact. Does Doug MacLean have a plan or is he really as incompetent as he comes off? How can he dangle a guy like Manny Malhotra in potential free agency? The crowd loves this guy, he gives his all on every shift (not the same can be said for some players). It's frustrating to see the team tank early in the season after getting false hope all offseason.
Brandon Moskal (Columbus, Ohio)
"I believe Stevens was looking to eliminate this formerly concussed player [Paul Kariya] from the series. He knew how much damage his shoulder pads had done to other NHL brains in the past."
This has absolutely proven to me that you are, in fact, a total moron.
Do me a favor and stop covering hockey. ESPN already does a great job ignoring the sport, so please follow their lead. Making such uninformed, moronic statements is much worse then ignoring the subject all together.
Dear Mr. Buccigross,
I agree with your assessment of Scott Stevens. I often thought that his infamous open-ice hits came late and high, and was intended to cause injury.
Also, he almost always left his skates when delivering those skull-battering hits, most notably those to Lindros, Francis and Kariya. It puzzles me -- isn't leaving your skates during a hit illegal? My theory was that it made for good ratings, so the NHL ignored Stevens' headhunting.
Quite possibly my favorite hockey moment of the last 10 years was watching the great Joe Sakic utterly use and abuse Scott Stevens during the 2001 finals. It was just wonderful.
New York, N.Y.
I expected Brad Richards to command a big pay increase over his last contract, but if you told me that he would pull an $8 million-per-year deal before he signed his new contract, I wouldn't have believed you. Richards is a dynamite player, but that's almost Jagr territory.
How do you think the deal is going to affect this summer's free-agent market? It seems to me that this almost ensures that Ottawa loses at least one of their two stud defensemen and that Patrik Elias' tenure in the swamps of New Jersey is coming to a close because the Devils won't be able to afford him. Furthermore, do you see Chara or Elias coming to Broadway this summer? The Rangers have the cap space, they would address some glaring needs and either one of them would be a great fit.
The $7.8 million a year seems like a lot for a 20-goal scorer, but kudos to Tampa Bay to give big money to a COMPLETE player. Too many times, 50-goal scorers are the highest-paid players on a team when they are, in fact, the most incomplete player on team. Brad Richards makes other players better with his playmaking. He is durable, missing just two games in five seasons. He wins faceoffs, plays the point on the power play and, most importantly for a big money player, he is a playoff monster. In his last 28 playoffs games, Richards has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points. He shows up in the regular season and shows up in the postseason.
Your model player should always be the highest paid. Plus he is 26, so you are getting his best years in a market where you are still trying to cultivate more fans. But I still thought $6.8 million would have been sufficient. The Richards deal is good news for Patrick Elias. He is a comparable player, except he is 30. A three-to-four-year deal probably makes more sense, but Elias will likely get five. And considering Richards got $7.8M, Elias has to get $6.8M. The Rangers will make a run at Chara. He would be a great fit to stick in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. If I were the Rangers, I would offer him a big deal, but also get a puck-moving defenseman.
I liked your comment about the emotional ties between fans and broadcasters, especially after learning that San Jose's excellent color commentator, Drew Remenda, is leaving the team to move back home to Saskatoon. Drew will be sorely missed; the Sharks telecasts are technically excellent and always informative. If the NHL wants to draw new viewers, the Sharks broadcasts over the past few years would be an excellent template.
I will miss Drew on the Sharks telecasts. He and Randy Hahn were one of my top three favorite broadcast teams. If I am CBC, I team him with Jim Hughson for their double-headers on Saturday nights. They would be a good team and a great listen.
The L.A. Kings have made some interesting moves in hiring Dean Lombardi and, most recently, Marc Crawford. With the moves they've made in the front office, what recommendations would you make as far as retooling their roster? What players would you definitely keep or replace from their current roster?
Tim "Chop" Marino
I like the Kings' talent base. They had 89 points and won more games than Edmonton did during the regular season. The regime change should give the team a cleansing feeling and a fresh start. They are in a good position in that their talent is spread across the board. They could make a run after Wade Redden, Chara, Elias, and the like. Do you believe in their goalies? I like this team. If I had a focus, it probably would be to upgrade the overall skating of the team.
This is a lock-down sure thing? More sure than Bertuzzi not winning the Lady Byng? Edmonton will hoist the Cup this year. My reasoning:
Chris Pronger. Not because of what he's done on the ice. Because he was my favorite St. Louis Blue, the guy whose number I stole for my hockey jerseys (I'm a defenseman, but couldn't justify wearing No. 2. My shot has all the velocity of Melrose's hair gel in Anchorage in January). That fact in and of itself does not guarantee the Cup to the Oilers, but there's a historical basis here.
--In 1997, the Kansas City Chiefs (my all-time favorite sports team and first love; 4 years old watching Super Bowl IV) traded my favorite player (Neil Smith, No. 90, a defensive end, like me, the guy whose jersey number I stole for my own for rec league football) to the Denver Broncos. Jan 25, 1998, Broncos win Super Bowl XXXII.
At that point, I told my wife, "If Pronger ever gets traded, we're betting the farm on the team that gets him to win the Cup that year." If I'm wrong, can I come live with you and Ken? My wife obviously won't be joining us as she might not appreciate losing it all on a hockey bet. If we win, I'll buy you a year's subscription to Otter Illustrated.
Fort Lewis, Wash.
There is always room in the Inn for a hockey fan. And I highly recommend spooning with otters.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.