Montreal Canadiens Carey Price is dangerously close to attaining a Jean-Sebastien Giguere-level of play circa 2003. The then-Anaheim Ducks goalie earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in a losing effort, with the New Jersey Devils ultimately winning the Stanley Cup.
The suggestion is more so acknowledgement of Price’s heroics so far these playoffs rather than a prediction, an argument that Price could conceivably win the award even if the Canadiens end up losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. After all, Price’s 2.02 goals-against average and .934 save percentage are obviously spectacular.
True, Price trails Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in both categories (1.99, .936), but a few undeniable truths:
- A lot can change over the course of the Final, least of all a few percentage points,
- It’s voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, many of whom by their very nature like a good story and
- Much like the Hart Memorial Trophy during the regular season, the Conn Smythe is awarded “to the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs.”
Ultimately, numbers don’t tell the whole story and Price’s play has clearly been more of a difference-maker for the Canadiens than Vasilevskiy’s has for the Lightning, with a roster rife with elite talent. However, the Canadiens have other difference-makers, themselves.
If Price were hypothetically deemed ineligible, kind of like Wayne Gretzky in his day during many a fantasy draft to level out the playing field, which Canadiens would stand the best chance at winning? Here are the top three candidates:
3. Phillip Danault
Talk about numbers not telling the whole story. Phillip Danault has just three assists (and no goals) these playoffs. Granted, one of his assists was the primary helper on Artturi Lehkonen’s series-clinching overtime goal against the Vegas Golden Knights, but, with Danault specifically, it’s more about the goals he’s helped prevent. In other words, you have to look at the right numbers.
True, it’s inherently unlikely anyone so much as considers anyone with Danault’s stat line for the Conn Smythe, but he has been incredibly valuable these playoffs. He first helped limit Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to a single goal combined in Round 1. In Round 2, admittedly without Mark Scheifele for the last three games, the Jets got only one goal from Kyle Connor and none at all from Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
In Round 3, the Vegas Golden Knights got lone tallies from Max Pacioretty and Reilly Smith. Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Alex Tuch each failed to score in the series, while Nicolas Roy, who ranked No. 18 on the Golden Knights in terms of ice time per game during the regular season, was their top goal-getter up front with two.
Danault has perennially entered into the Frank J. Selke Trophy conversation. He finished No. 6 in Selke voting for 2020-21, the third straight time he has been in the top 10. Look for him to receive even greater recognition next season, wherever he plays, as a pending unrestricted free agent.
Last offseason, Danault expressed a desire to only re-sign with the Canadiens if he could keep an offensive role. Now, despite Danault’s mere five goals scored during the regular season, general manager Marc Bergevin could conceivably try to convince him to stay through financial means. However, it’s quite possible he plays the market, because his performance these playoffs has resulted in a lot of frustrated opponents on the ice, but enamored execs in boardrooms all across the league. If only they voted for the Conn Smythe.
2. Cole Caufield
Cole Caufield is only the second Hobey Baker Award winner to reach the Stanley Cup Final in the same season (Neal Broten of Minnesota North Stars fame). More to the point, he’s been instrumental in enabling the Canadiens get to this point.
Considering Cole Caufield’s mere 20 years of age, his four-goal, five-assist performance these playoffs (15 games) has been nothing short of impressive. That he’s still eligible to win the Calder Memorial Trophy next season only adds to his legend.
To not heighten expectations surrounding Caufield to an unrealistic extent, he is unlikely to join Ken Dryden and become the second player to capture the Calder after winning the Conn Smythe. Firstly, it’s unfair to assume Caufield can keep this going over the course of an entire regular season next year and there would be other potential Calder candidates to consider. He will more likely run into growing pains (at which point fans and media members alike should cool their jets).
Secondly, while Caufield’s been clutch, for example assisting on Nick Suzuki’s overtime goal in Game 5 against the Leafs to keep their season alive, it would be hard (but not impossible) to give him over the edge over Suzuki himself. Caufield is currently third in Canadiens scoring, which is mind-boggling especially since he had been scratched for the first two games of the playoffs. However, the disparity between him and Suzuki and leading-scorer Tyler Toffoli (four and five points respectively) is so great, the top spot on this list has to go to one of those two, right?
1. Tyler Toffoli
Sometimes points do matter, it turns out. After leading the Canadiens in scoring during the regular season, Toffoli admittedly took some time to pick up where he left off in the playoffs.
Toffoli only found the back of the net for the first time in Game 6 against the Maple Leafs, but what followed after was a nearly unprecedented eight-game point streak, during which Toffoli scored 10 points, including two game-winning goals, including the overtime clincher in the Jets series (on which Caufield also assisted for the record).
It’s “nearly unprecedented” as the Canadiens record is nine games, with both Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson hitting that high-water mark. Still that’s pretty good company to keep and further indication that Toffoli was one of the best free-agent signings of last offseason (not just by Bergevin, but across the NHL).
While Suzuki is currently second in team scoring, behind Toffoli, Caufield definitely has a case to be made that he deserves the No. 2 spot on this list instead. His assists on both Suzuki’s and Toffoli’s overtime goals have shown another side to his game as a playmaker of which many had been unaware. Considering the nature of each of his primary assists on those key goals, Caufield was arguably just as responsible for each of them as the actual scorers.
So, Suzuki potentially falling as low as fourth here in spite of his 13 points in 17 games? It speaks further to the depth of this Canadiens team, especially when he and Toffoli share the team lead of five goals with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia, members of two separate lines. The Canadiens admittedly do not have the same depth as the Lightning, but the Habs have proven to have their fair share of game-breakers these playoffs… from the net out.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to cover the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.