Sunday night in San Jose, the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 to clinch the championship. After the game, Captain Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 NHL Playoffs.
Early in the 2015-16 season, the Penguins struggled mightily with possession, with points, and with winning hockey games. Their struggles were so pronounced, Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player in the world, was buried in the league scoring race. He normally is at the top of the list and challenging to win the Art Ross trophy every year for the most points. On December 12th, head coach Mike Johnston was fired. The Penguins brought up Mike Sullivan from their AHL affiliate and almost immediately, Pittsburgh rebounded. And so did Crosby. Despite being well off his normal pace at the coaching change, Crosby went on such a tear that he finished 3rd in the league in points with 85 points in 80 games (39 goals, 49 assists).
They worked their way back into the playoff conversation and found themselves facing off against the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals against the San Jose Sharks. Each round was tough and hard fought. Any of those rounds could have gone the other way, particularly the Eastern Conference Finals where the Lightning played with out Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos for almost the entirety.
They accomplished a lot on offense by breaking up their three best forwards; Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. Earlier in the year, they had tried Kessel with both Crosby and Malkin and things never quite clicked. Late in the season though, Kessel found chemistry with Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin. Those three combined for 56 points in 24 games. The HBK Line as it became dubbed gave the Penguins three solid, offensively capable lines to go with one of the better fourth lines in the league.
They deserved to win. They overcame adversity. They continuously out shot and out worked their opponents. Matt Murray came up big in his first real NHL action. And they were able to avoid too many devastating injuries to their line up. Congratulations Penguins.
The Conn Smythe
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I do have to disagree with the Conn Smythe selection of Sidney Crosby. Was he good? Yes. Was he the primary reason the Penguins won and got to the Finals? Ehh, maybe. He did have 3 game winning goals, which was the most on the Penguins. But he was under a point per game. He was a negative plus-minus. He only managed six goals. And I think Phil Kessel would have a good case ahead of Crosby if you're only talking about the Penguins.
But really, I think Logan Couture of the Sharks should have won it. I know a lot of people will say he shouldn't because the Sharks lost. However, there is precedent for a losing player to win the Conn Smythe, though it has only happened five times since the trophy was first presented in 1965 and it happened last in 2003. Couture is only the 5th player to reach 30 points since the 1995-96 playoffs and the first since Daniel Briere had 30 points in 2009-10. Couture was also a plus-5 and had two game winning goals out of his 10 goals scored. He was tied for third in goals scored and was first in assists as well as leading in points.
Brent Burns also very well could have been in that conversation with his 24 points and plus-11 rating. No defenseman has scored more points in the playoffs since Brian Leetch had 34 points in 1993-94. It's very easy to look at San Jose and know that they almost certainly would not have been where they were without Logan Couture or Brent Burns. The Penguins still would have had a very good chance to make it to the Finals and win even without Sidney Crosby as they still had a lot of offense from Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and Nick Bonino. So for me, that makes it very hard to call Crosby the Most Valuable Player of these 2016 Playoffs.