Nathan MacKinnon and Nikita Kucherov are 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy candidates

The Colorado Avalance and Tampa Bay Lightning are set to faceoff in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. At the conclusion of the series, the Conn Smythe Trophy will be awarded to the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Members of the PWHA vote on which player they believe is most deserving of the trophy. The Conn Smythe is presented to the winner by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman prior to the Stanley Cup ceremony.

The Conn Smythe Trophy is based on a player’s performance during the entire NHL postseason, meaning the winner typically plays on one of two Final teams. The trophy has never been awarded to a player whose team didn’t at least reach the Stanley Cup Final.

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs feature several players worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy. The Colorado Avalanche have been the most dominant team and therefore feature the most Conn Smythe candidates.

The Conn Smythe Trophy has been awarded to centers 19 times, to goaltenders 18 times, and to defencemen 11 times. There have been five instances of Conn Smythe winners on losing teams.

Before we look at this year’s candidates, let’s look back at the Conn Smythe Trophy winners of the past decade:

Conn Smythe Trophy Winners 

2021Andrei VasilevskiyTampa Bay Lightning
2020Victor HedmanTampa Bay Lightning
2019Ryan O'ReillySt. Louis Blues
2018Alex OvechkinWashington Capitals
2017Sidney CrosbyPittsburgh Penguins
2016Sidney CrosbyPittsburgh Penguins
2015Duncan KeithChicago Blackhawks
2014Justin WilliamsLos Angeles Kings
2013Patrick KaneChicago Blackhawks
2012Jonathan QuickLos Angeles Kings

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is the most recent Conn Smythe Trophy winner. The last four seasons have featured a Conn Smythe winner of different positions.

Here are the top-five Conn Smythe Trophy candidates for 2022:

5. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning 

Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos is playing some of the best hockey of his career at age 32 in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The veteran is a top-five Conn Smythe candidate primarily due to his most recent series performance. Stamkos scored six goals in Tampa Bay’s six-game series win over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. In 16 playoff games overall, Stamkos has tallied seven goals and six assists for 13 points.

Stamkos doesn’t currently crack the top-10 in playoff scoring, but he’s one of the easiest players to root for. It would just take a few big goals against Colorado in the Cup Final for Stamkos to get serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Stamkos has provided great leadership while scoring at a consistent rate throughout the postseason. The players below him on this list have a more compelling “MVP” argument, but Stamkos is still a deserving top-five candidate.

4. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is a top Conn Smythe Trophy candidate for the third consecutive season. The Russian goalie finished fourth in 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy voting before actually winning the trophy in 2021. Vasilevskiy could become the third player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe in back-to-back years. The Tampa Bay goalie would likely occupy a top-two spot in our rankings if it weren’t for his Stanley Cup Final opponent. The Avalanche have dominated the 2022 playoffs with a 12-2 record and are favored to beat the Lightning.

Although Vasilevskiy faces a tough test against the explosive Avalanche, he’s arguably been Tampa Bay’s most valuable player. In 17 postseason starts, Vasilevskiy has posted a .928 save percentage and 2.27 GAA along with one shutout. Vasilevskiy was outstanding against Florida and New York, but he did have a rough start to the playoffs. The former Vezina winner allowed three or more goals in six of the team’s seven opening-round games vs Toronto. What truly makes Vasilevskiy a top Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, however, is his clutch ability. Vasilevskiy is near unbeatable in important games, allowing just two goals in three series-clinching victories this spring.

3. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning 

Nikita Kucherov could claim his very-much deserved Conn Smythe Trophy in 2022. Over the past five playoffs, Kucherov leads all players in postseason scoring by a significant margin. While voting is based on a single postseason, voters often do consider which players are most deserving. Kucherov currently has the second-best points per game in the 2022 playoffs (remaining players) with 22 points in 16 games. The Russian superstar finished second in the 2021 Conn Smythe voting behind his teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy. If Tampa Bay wins a third straight Stanley Cup, we could see a scenario in which voters choose to give Kucherov his due even though Vasilevskiy may be the more valuable player.

Kucherov’s Conn Smythe case is bolstered by an unfortunate injury to his linemate Brayden Point. Point suffered an injury in Game 7 of Round 1 vs Toronto and hasn’t played a game since. In 10 games without Point in the lineup, Kucherov has exploded for five goals and 15 points. We don’t like Tampa Bay’s chances of beating Colorado, but if they do somehow pull off the threepeat, it’s hard to envision the Conn Smythe going to any other player besides Kucherov. Kucherov, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy are considered the core of this Lightning dynasty and have all played instrumental roles in the team’s historic run. It would only be fitting that each player walks away with one playoff MVP Trophy when all is said and done.

2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon is very close to being the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite ahead of the Stanley Cup Final. MacKinnon leads all remaining players in playoff goal-scoring with 11 goals in 14 games. The 26-year-old also sits seventh in postseason scoring overall with 18 points through three rounds. MacKinnon has been Colorado’s most valuable forward through three rounds of the playoffs. What hurts MacKinnon’s Conn Smythe chances, though, is the fact Colorado is loaded with elite offensive weapons.

The Avalanche currently have nine different players with five or more goals in the 2022 Playoffs. MacKinnon has put the team on his back at times, but he’s yet to score a game-winning goal or win a series on his own. The Stanley Cup Final has a huge impact on determining the Conn Smythe winner, so MacKinnon could very well take over the top spot with a strong performance vs Tampa Bay. Given Colorado’s riches of offensive talent, though, you can understand why MacKinnon currently comes in second in our Conn Smythe rankings. The player in first place has a better argument for being the “most valuable player” of the playoffs.

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar is the leading frontrunner for the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy. The 23-year-old blueliner has the highest points per game rate of any player playing in the Stanley Cup Final. In only 14 playoff games, Makar has recorded five goals and 22 points. Not only is Makar dominating offensively, but he’s excelling in his own end as well. Makar has been on the ice for only 14 goals against at even strength in the playoffs. His defensive shutdown ability was on full display against Edmonton Oilers’ phenom Connor McDavid in the Western Conference Final.

McDavid dominated the first two rounds of the playoffs but was held to only seven points in Round 3 vs the Avalanche. Makar and Devon Toews form arguably the most efficient defensive pairing in the entire NHL and have shut down opposing team’s top lines. Toews doesn’t have the same type of offensive attributes as Makar, which makes him a Conn Smythe longshot. If voters choose to reward the dominance of Colorado’s top defensive pairing, they’re going to give the trophy to Makar over Toews.

Makar is primed to become the third defenseman in the last 10 years to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Makar shares several similarities to previous defensive winners Victor Hedman (2020) and Duncan Keth (2015). Both Hedman and Keith finished top-five in playoff scoring in their respective years and made huge contributions at both ends of the ice. Although they may have not finished with the most points in their playoff runs, voters felt their defensive contributions, combined with their offensive production, made them worthy of the trophy.