2022 Conn Smythe Trophy Tracker: Cale Makar, Connor McDavid in Pole Position

Conference Finals - Conn Smythe Trophy - 2021-22 Hart Trophy | Washington Capitals Garnet Hathaway fights Connor McDavid for positioning in front of the Edmonton Oilers' net at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C., Feb. 2, 2022 (Image: Brian Murphy, All-Pro Reels)
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, fighting for net-front positioning with the Washington Capitals' Garnet Hathaway (Image: All-Pro Reels)

With the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, the race to claim the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy is heating up.

Awarded to “the most valuable player for his team” in the postseason, the Conn Smythe Trophy is typically – but not always – handed to an eventual Stanley Cup champion. As the Colorado Avalanche are currently favourites to win it all, their leading figures stand atop the odds to be crowned playoff MVP.

2022 Conn Smythe Trophy Contenders

Although there’s still plenty of hockey left to be played, here are our five early picks to scoop the crown as postseason MVP.

Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche, Defenceman

In just his third NHL campaign, Cale Makar notched 86 points (28 goals, 58 assists) in 77 regular-season appearances, solidifying his status as one of the league’s stars.

“You look at his numbers, and he’s as dangerous as any forward in the league,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said of Makar earlier this month. “He is for me the guy [for the Norris Trophy]. Partly, because of what he’s added to his game now with us. The offensive dynamic player that you see every night, obviously that was there from the start, but he’s just been improving.”

The 23-year-old has carried his fine form from the regular-season into the playoffs, notching 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six appearances. He was spectacular in Colorado’s sweeping of the Nashville Predators in Round 1, outduelling Norris Trophy rival Roman Josi with a string of dominating performances.

Although the Av’s second round series is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3, Makar has more than held his own versus the St. Louis Blues and will be in pole position to win the Conn Smythe Trophy if Colorado’s advancement continues.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, Centre

It’s impossible to debate an MVP award without mentioning superstar centreman Connor McDavid. As always, he’s been electric for the Edmonton Oilers, potting a remarkable 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in eight playoff games.

His ridiculous postseason tally includes a four-point performance from Edmonton’s crushing 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames in Game 1, Round 2.

“If you look at the game sheet, Connor led our team in hits tonight,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said after Game 1 of the Battle of Alberta. “It’s a good thing for him because he’s playing hard, but we can have more physical attachment to the game.”

- Conn Smythe Trophy - After featuring for Team North America in 2016, Connor McDavid could captain Team Canada at the 2024 World Cup of Hockey (Image: Brian Murphy, All-Pro Reels)
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Image: Brian Murphy, All-Pro Reels)

Although the Oilers are outsiders to advance to the Western Conference Final, McDavid is a leading figure in the Conn Smythe Trophy debate because of the extent of his dominance. He dragged Edmonton through the first round versus the LA Kings: it isn’t out of the question that he could repeat the feat against the Flames.

Carter Verhaeghe, Florida Panthers, Centre

Nobody expected Carter Verhaeghe to emerge as the most effective player on the Florida Panthers, but that’s exactly how the landscape is shaped midway through the second round. He’s been excellent and has worked his way into Conn Smythe Trophy contention, registering 12 points (six goals, six assists) in eight appearances.

However, his point-scoring clip has fallen off since Round 1 ended: he’s pointless through two matches against the Tampa Bay Lightning and amassed only 16:54 time on ice in the series opener.

“He had to earn it,” Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette told Florida Hockey Now earlier this season. “He had to grind through the AHL a little bit to prove how good he was, he didn’t get those opportunities right away, but he had to continue to keep grinding and grinding and keep getting better.”

If the Panthers are to overturn their 2-0 series deficit versus Tampa Bay, Verhaeghe will have a key role to play.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames, Left Wing

With 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in eight playoff games, Johnny Gaudreau is starting to click into gear. He enjoyed a three-point outing in Game 1 versus the Oilers, totting up assists like they’re going out of fashion.

The 28-year-old also showed up for the Flames in their series decider against the Dallas Stars in Round 1, scoring the decisive goal in a 3-2 overtime win. Talk about being clutch.

“Is that a question, really?” Gaudreau joked when asked how his strike versus Dallas stacks up against his other NHL markers. “C’mon. There’s no bigger stage than what we just had there. It was really special for me. I was really excited. You dream about stuff like that.”

If the former fourth-round pick continues to pop up at key moments for the Flames (and they see off Edmonton in Round 2), his claim as a Conn Smythe Trophy contender will go from strength to strength.

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, Defenceman

Finally, let’s contemplate the possibility of a historic threepeat for Tampa Bay. If the Lightning go all the way (again), Victor Hedman will become the out-and-out favourite to win this year’s MVP award. He was dominant versus the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, stymieing the threat posed by John Tavares, and has looked even more impressive against the Panthers.

The 31-year-old has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in nine playoff games this season, bringing his career postseason tally to 85 points in 82 appearances.

At 6-foot-6, Hedman is a sturdy defenceman capable of making high-end plays. He won the Norris back in 2017-18 and claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2019-20. Make no mistake: the Swede is a contender for playoff MVP once more.

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