Show me a better final four.
The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs are turning out to be a classic with a conference final round oozing with top-end talent. Still in the mix, we have the undisputed best player in the world, plus arguably the top two netminders in the league, the best defenceman and pairing, and some of the highest-performing postseason players in this era.
It goes without saying, then, that it's not hard to identify worthy candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Here are the contenders after Round 2:
1) Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Previous: 1)
It's entirely possible that hockey has never been played at a higher level.
McDavid has been a force of nature in these playoffs, propelling the Oilers to series victories over the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames through prodigious point totals and moments when they matter. He's more than halfway to Wayne Gretzky's record for points in a single postseason through just 12 games, scoring seven goals and collecting 19 assists. His 26 points are already a top-10 total over the last half decade, and he's 10 points shy of matching the record in the salary cap era set by Evgeni Malkin in 2009 in half as many games.
Timing has also been key for McDavid in building an unmatched case for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He essentially advanced the Oilers with the final nail in each series, scoring an insurance marker with under four minutes to go versus Los Angeles in Game 7 before his overtime winner to eliminate the Flames.
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McDavid also has a 77.5 percent on-ice goal differential in all situations, and leads all remaining forwards in ice time per game, penalties drawn, and has thrown half has many hits (39) as he did throughout the entire regular season (75).
Current odds: +650
2) Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous: unranked)
While much of the attention is centred around his countryman, Igor Shesterkin (who we will get to in a moment), the NHL's reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner has arguably the better numbers, and at least fewer blemishes, through two rounds.
Vasilevskiy had an otherworldly second round, allowing just three goals on 154 shots in a series sweep over Tampa Bay's Floridian rivals. It worked out to a .981 save percentage and over 10 Goals Saved Above Average, bumping many of his important metrics up beyond most of the field.
But one data point does best to separate Vasilevskiy from the others, which is his .915 save percentage on high-danger looks from the opposition. As much as Shesterkin has been lauded for making the saves he shouldn't have, he sports an .848 save percentage against the high-danger looks.
Vasilevskiy is also on the path to cementing himself on the Mount Rushmore of NHL goalies based on his legendary run over the last three seasons and near-impenetrable form in close-out opportunities for the Lightning.
Legacy means something to voters, which is something to keep in mind.
Current odds: +500
3) Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Previous: unranked)
So much for the presumptive Vezina Trophy winner running out of gas.
After a mediocre opening round, as the Rangers survived a scare versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, Shesterkin was spectacular in Round 2 versus the Carolina Hurricanes. By far the top performer in the series, Shesterkin allowed 12 goals in the seven-game clash, cutting down what was expected from Carolina based on shots and shot quality by more than half.
Shesterkin now has the highest Goals Saved Above Average among remaining netminders after posting a .949 save percentage versus the Metropolitan Division winners.
He alone might be the greatest threat to the Lightning dynasty.
Current odds: +1000
4) Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Previous: unranked)
For the Avalanche, individual numbers simply cannot compare to what the likes of McDavid and other select Oilers have produced to this point. Part of that is due to the speed with which they eliminated their first opponent, but also the quality they overcame in the second round.
Nonetheless, MacKinnon has the best odds to win the Conn Smythe Trophy after piling up an impressive eight goals and 13 points in 10 games. He also has produced the single-most breathtaking moment of the postseason, scoring a hat-trick goal late to seize the lead in Game 5 versus the St. Louis Blues, only to see his teammates surrender an equalizer moments later.
MacKinnon is well on his way to a stat line worthy of the award if the Avalanche can meet the expectations laid out for them, which is to win the next two rounds and lift the Stanley Cup.
Current odds: +300
5) Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Previous: 2)
Makar wasn't quite as dominant versus St. Louis, showing some of the imperfections in his defensive game. And while perhaps that has seen the pendulum swing in his teammate's favour after Round 2, the stage is set for the Western Conference Final to serve as an offensive showcase, and one which could see the ultra-talented and roving defenceman shine.
Through two rounds, Makar has the same amount of points as MacKinnon, and is now producing at nearly a point-per-game rate in the playoffs for his career. His underlying metrics were brilliant in both series. And with the best expected goals percentage among blueliners in the tournament, the 25-13 total on-ice goal differential he features while playing in all situations for the Avalanche is slightly worse than what perhaps he deserves.
Current odds: +450
Honourable mention: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Even in a world where Draisaitl sets the record for points in a single postseason, it's going to be difficult for him to win the award. That's because it's almost impossible for him to outshine McDavid, even if he nearly managed that in the second round versus the Flames.
Draisaitl has brilliantly battled through a bad injury, adjusting his game to remain as productive as possible. The result of his adaptation has worked out to a co-lead in the postseason scoring race with McDavid, and a huge hand in helping the Oilers advance to the third round.
But for anyone watching intently, it's clear McDavid is driving the bus. In fact, the main strategy in Draisaitl's simplistic approach to managing an apparent high-ankle sprain is to continue to put the puck on his linemate's stick.
Fortunately for the Oilers, no one can do that quite like Draisaitl.
Current odds: +1000
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers: Leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 12 goals.
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers: Third in postseason scoring with 19 points.
Adam Fox, New York Rangers: First among defencemen with 18 points.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Seven points in four games in Round 2.
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