The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are battling for the Stanley Cup, which means one player from one of these teams is going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. The award goes to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team in the playoffs, but it has never been awarded to a player whose team fell short of the Stanley Cup Final. So better luck next year, Mark Scheifele.
Luckily, both the Capitals and Knights have a collection of players who are worthy of MVP consideration. Here's how the field breaks down for the Conn Smythe as the Final begins:
10. Erik Haula, C, Golden Knights
He had an overtime winner way back in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Kings. He's listed here not because we think he has a realistic shot at MVP, but because he has Vegas odds on him: He's plus-$50,000 at the Vegas sportsbooks now, so if you're looking for a long shot ...
9. John Carlson, D, Capitals
He's averaging 25:59 in ice time per game and has 16 points in 19 games, which is tops for defensemen in the postseason. And hey, a Conn Smythe would probably add a million to the annual average value of his new contract this summer.
8. Reilly Smith, RW, Golden Knights
The Vegas forward has 16 points in 15 games. Normally, that would put him right in the conversation for MVP. Alas, he has two linemates ahead of him in the queue.
7. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals
Backstrom has 16 points in 15 games, having recovered from his hand injury in the second round. His two goals and an assist, including the overtime winner, in Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets helped to get this whole thing rolling.
6. William Karlsson, C, Golden Knights
"Wild Bill" has six goals and seven assists, including a huge, overtime winner in Game 3 against the Sharks in the conference semifinals.
5. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Capitals
Kuznetsov leads the playoffs with 24 points in 19 games. That includes 11 goals, one of which was a series-clinching, overtime tally to eliminate the Penguins. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could challenge for MVP honors with a huge performance in the Final.
4. Jonathan Marchessault, LW, Golden Knights
The Knights' most dynamic scorer in the postseason, he leads the team with eight goals and 18 points. He has two game-winning goals to his credit and has been Vegas' offensive engine. OK, perhaps "The Little Engine That Could" is more appropriate.
3. Braden Holtby, G, Capitals
After sitting for the first two games in the postseason, Holtby has gotten stronger as the playoffs have progressed. He has a .923 save percentage after becoming the fifth goalie in NHL history to post back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of a series, as he did against Tampa Bay. He's very much alive in the MVP race, but he's not the Capitals' leader.
2. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals
While the "Ovechkin as playoff liability" trope was never accurate, there's no question this is the most impactful postseason the Capitals star has ever had. Ovechkin has 12 goals and 10 assists in 19 games. He was a factor on three of their four game-winning goals against the Penguins. He scored back-breaking goals in Games 1 and 2 against Tampa Bay and a critical first goal in Game 7. If the Capitals win the Cup, one assumes he will win the Conn Smythe. Unless ...
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Golden Knights
With a .947 save percentage -- at the moment, the best in NHL history for goalies with at least 15 playoff games played -- Fleury is the front-runner if the Golden Knights win the Cup. But there's a growing sentiment that, with a strong Final, he could be the MVP win or lose. There have been only five players who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort. Four of them have been goaltenders.