With the possibility that the Stanley Cup finals could end tonight, the question of who deserves the Conn Smythe Trophy rages on. Who has been the biggest star in the playoffs? Who has been most responsible for his team’s success?
In trying to form an opinion on who might be most deserving for the Trophy, I began to think about what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Great players is the obvious first choice but with arguably the game’s biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, out of the playoffs for over a month, this cannot be the deciding aspect. Hot goalies are always a popular factor but with this year’s Finals featuring the highest goal total in 29 years, this again cannot be the guide.
This year’s Stanley Cup Finals is teaching me (and probably a whole bunch of general managers) a valuable lesson – while stars might get your team national television coverage – they don’t guarantee wins. It’s the supporting cast and chemistry that matter the most. This doesn’t sound sexy and won’t sell a lot of team merchandise but it makes for teams playing hockey in June.
Consider that in this year’s Finals, 25 different players have been responsible for the 40 goals scored. With the Blackhawks star front line responsible for only four goals, it’s been the lesser-known players like Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, and Ben Eager that have put the team on their shoulders, and on the verge of the team’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
The Flyers’ story has been similar. With leading regular season goal scorers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards only tallying only one score apiece in the Finals, Flyer fans probably would have resigned themselves to another bridesmaid finish to the season. But players like Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell are the ones doing the little things needed to keep the team in the hunt for their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
Each team’s success, though, is about more than just having sixteen guys that know their roles and play them well. Another crucial element, it seems, is chemistry. The Blackhawk players like each other. Whether it’s playing video games or pranks on each other, it is easy to see how connected a group they are by just watching BlackhawksTV.
Similarly, the Flyers have spent the last six weeks rallying around each other. From fighting back to make the playoffs on the last play of regular season, to coming back from a three game to none series deficit AND a 3-0 goal deficit in game seven on the road in Boston, they have embraced the “whatever we need to do to win” mentality.
So whether the Finals end tonight or Friday it doesn’t really matter who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy. The biggest winners will be the fans. Not just those of the winning team, but of any NHL franchise because this year’s Playoffs have shown us that to be successful you don’t need one or two once-in-a-lifetime stars but rather a team of guys that play the game well and truly enjoy doing it together. Who couldn’t root for that?