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Vasilevskiy, Rask Open as 2020 Conn Smythe Favorites; How Often Do Goalies Actually Win Playoff MVP?

Tuukka Rask in net for the Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask is looking to become the first goalie to win the Conn Smythe since Jonathan Quick in 2012. Photo by Lisa Gansky (wikimedia commons).
  • The 2020 NHL season restarts on Saturday, Aug. 1st
  • The early Conn Smythe odds favor the starting goalies on the two Stanley Cup favorites
  • Recent trends suggest a forward is far more likely to win playoff MVP

The 2020 NHL season is set to restart in just over a week with eight “qualification series”, which commence on Saturday, Aug. 1st, and will finalize the final four playoff teams in each conference.

Neither those series, nor the round robins to determine the top-four seeds in each conference, are technically part of the playoffs.

That is a technicality bettors need to keep in mind when assessing the early Conn Smythe odds, which have now been posted at online sportsbooks.  The voting for the award will be based on the round of 16 onward.

The early playoff MVP odds favor a pair of goalies from the two teams with the shortest Stanley Cup odds. Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy opened as the outright favorite at +1600, followed by Boston’s Tuukka Rask, who is tied with Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche at +1800.

2020 Conn Smythe Favorites: Top 30

Player (Team) Position Odds
Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning) Goalie +1600
Tuukka Rask (Bruins) Goalie +1800
Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche) Forward +1800
Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) Forward +2000
Mac-Andre Fleury (Golden Knights) Goalie +2000
Philipp Grubauer (Avalanche) Goalie +2000
Steven Stamkos (Lightning) Forward +2500
Carter Hart (Flyers) Goalie +2800
Jordan Binnington (Blues) Goalie +2800
Sidney Crosby (Penguins) Forward +2800
David Pastrnak (Bruins) Forward +3000
Brad Marchand (Bruins) Forward +3000
Patrice Bergeron (Bruins) Forward +3000
Braden Holtby (Capitals) Goalie +3000
Max Pacioretty (Golden Knights) Forward +3500
Mark Stone (Golden Knights) Forward +3500
Ryan O’Reilly (Blues) Forward +3500
Jakub Voracek (Flyers) Forward +4000
Claude Giroux (Flyers) Forward +4000
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) Forward +4000
Ben Bishop (Stars) Goalie +4000
Connor McDavid (Oilers) Forward +4000
Tristan Jarry (Penguins) Goalie +5000
Brayden Point (Lightning) Forward +5000
Reilly Smith (Golden Knights) Forward +5000
Gabriel Landeskog (Avalanche) Forward +5000
Evgeni Malkin (Penguins) Forward +5000
Auston Matthews (Leafs) Forward +5000
Tyler Seguin (Stars) Forward +5000
Frederik Andersen (Leafs) Goalie +5000

Odds as of July 23rd. 

A full third of the top-30 favorites are goalies. The other 20 are forwards. None are defensemen. The top blueliner on the list is Washington’s John Carlson (the odds-on Norris Trophy favorite) at +6600, followed by Colorado rookie Cale Makar at +7000.

The most important part of picking a Conn Smythe winner is first deciding which team is the most-likely to win the Stanley Cup. Every Conn Smythe winner has come from the champion since 2003 when Anaheim’s JS Giguere captured the award. Before Giguere, there was a 16-year gap to Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall, whose Flyers lost to Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in 1987.

In the 55-year history of the Conn Smythe award, only five players have been named playoff MVP while playing for a team that didn’t win the Cup.

Betting Trends Are Not Kind to Goalies

It’s somewhat surprising that the favorites are goalies. The last goalie to win the Conn Smythe was Jonathan Quick with the LA Kings in 2012. Since then, six forwards and one defenseman have earned the honour.

Since the NHL returned from its 2005 lockout with new, more scoring-friendly rules, only three of 14 Conn Smythe winners have been netminders: Cam Ward (Hurricanes, 2006), Tim Thomas (Bruins, 2011), and the aforementioned Quick. That’s a 21.4% clip, barely one out of every five.

Between Rask and Vasilevskiy, I would side with Rask at a slightly longer price. He was the best goalie in the league this year and plays behind a Boston team that is more defensively-responsible than Tampa. If the Bruins make another run to the Stanley Cup final, there’s a good chance they do it in a number of low-scoring games.

A Lightning run is more likely to be powered by an offensive explosion.

Narrowing Down the Forwards

Of course, it’s easy to narrow down which goalies have the best shot. Everyone knows Vasilevskiy and Rask will get the vast majority of playoff starts for their respective teams, so if the Bruins or Lightning do win the Cup, their names will almost inevitably be in the Conn Smythe discussion. The same can’t be said of any particular forward.

That said, there is a pretty obvious trend that emerges when analyzing the forwards who have won recently. Of the last six forwards to win the Conn Smythe, five were also the regular-season scoring leaders for their teams.

To find a Conn Smythe-winning forward who wasn’t at least in the top three on his team in regular-season scoring, you have to go all the way back to Claude Lemieux with the New Jersey Devils in 1995. The consummate postseason performer, Lemieux is the exception that breaks a lot of playoff rules.

If you are planning to bet the Conn Smythe winner at this stage, my advice is to sprinkle your money on the top-three scorers from whichever team you see lifting the Cup. In the case of Boston, it would probably be safe to limit it to two (David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand) given the toll that injuries have taken on 35-year-old Patrice Bergeron.

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