There will be plenty of star power when the Tampa Bay Lightning go after a third straight Stanley Cup championship against the favored Colorado Avalanche.
As the two-time defending champions and with the last two playoffs’ most valuable players on the roster, one would think that a Lightning player would be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. However, that honor goes to Colorado’s 23-year-old defenseman Cale Makar according to the NHL betting lines.
Naturally, the Las Vegas odds will change if the Lightning jump ahead in the series. As the Stanley Cup Finals are set to begin on Wednesday night in Denver, here’s a look at the current favorites.
Cale Makar, Colorado defenseman (+125)
When the legendary Wayne Gretzky, who has done some studio work during the playoffs, uses your name in the same sentence as Boston Bruins Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, you know a player is special. Speaking of Orr, if Makar wins the Conn Smythe he would be the youngest defenseman to win the award since Orr was 22 at the time that he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the first time in 1970.
Makar leads Colorado with 17 assists, 22 points, seven assists on the power play, and eight power-play points. The statistics only begin to tell the story of Makar’s impact on games. When the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone, goalies can’t help but get a little anxious.
Makar is the perfect defenseman for this generation of hockey. However, he would thrive in any era. His improvement on the defensive side has enabled his coaching staff to put him out there for more than 27 minutes per game, the most of any player on the Avalanche in the postseason.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado center (+200)
MacKinnon leads the Avalanche with 11 goals in the postseason and some of those have been absolutely breathtaking.
The #StanleyCup Playoff beauties keep on coming! 🤩
Ondrej Palat or Nathan MacKinnon: Who had the better goal? 🤔
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 6, 2022
MacKinnon has done just about everything a player can do in his nine seasons except lift the Stanley Cup. The Avalanche has fallen short in the postseason in recent years but it is hard to blame MacKinnon for that. His goals per game and points per game in the playoffs are significantly higher than what he put up during the regular season. He has 28 goals in his last 39 postseason games.
Something to consider for those who bet online, MacKinnon (+1200) is the favorite to have the first goal in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay goalie (+400)
Remember when Vasilevskiy went six games without picking up a victory late in the regular season? Those issues seem like ancient history.
Tampa Bay has lost back-to-back games once in the last three postseasons and much of the credit for that has to go to Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy allowed three goals or more in his first six appearances in the postseason. Ever since he looks like a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Beginning with Game 7 against Toronto, he has allowed 10 goals in the nine games won by Tampa Bay. In the two losses, he has given up nine goals.
Nobody is expecting Vasilevskiy and his teammates to limit the high-powered Colorado team to a goal per game. However, if Tampa Bay wins this series, it will likely be a result of Vasilevskiy’s brilliance between the pipes. If he does win the award, he would become the first back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy recipient since Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay winger (+400)
With 51 goals and 150 points in the postseason, Kucherov knows how to get it done at this time of the year.
Kucherov is closing in on scoring at least 10 goals in the playoffs for the third time in his career. Tampa Bay is 17-2 in the last three playoffs when Kucherov scores at least one goal. He already has five goals and 11 assists in the Stanley Cup Finals during his career. He’ll need to add to that total for the Lightning to win the NHL title for the third season in a row.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay center (+1600)
Stamkos is well back of the current favorites. He is a player who can score goals in bunches and the bigger the game, the better he tends to play.
Stamkos leads Tampa Bay with nine goals in the postseason including eight coming at even strength. That second number is especially crucial because relying on power plays to score at this time of the year is a risky proposition.
Stamkos scored a career-high 106 points during the regular season. Now he is looking to add to his career postseason totals of 41 goals and 87 points.
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado winger (+1600)
Somehow five players on his own team have more shots on goal than Rantanen which seems hard to believe. He is a player who can be unstoppable when he displays a shoot-first mentality. That will be something his linemates and coaches will be asking of him.
The good news for the Avalanche and not-so-good news for the Lightning is that Rantanen scored in all four games of the sweep of the Edmonton Oilers so he should be coming into this series with plenty of confidence.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay defenseman (+2000)
A former Conn Smythe Award winner, Hedman is pretty undervalued in the current Conn Smythe odds. If he produces offensively the same way he did during the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals when he had a goal and six assists in six games, he could move up this list.
Hedman will be focusing more on limiting the scoring chances of Colorado’s top players than adding to his career point total in the postseason.
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado winger (+2000)
Landeskog has already set career highs with eight goals and 17 points in this year’s playoffs. He will look to continue to add to those numbers.
Colorado has won its last 12 games when Landeskog has more than one point with five of those efforts coming in the playoffs. Landeskog broke in with the Avalanche a decade after the franchise’s last NHL title. Now in his 11th season, he would love nothing better than to bring the Stanley Cup back to Denver.
Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz, Colorado goaltenders (+4000)
The fact that both Colorado goalies are mentioned doesn’t help in their chances to win the Conn Smythe.
Kuemper is 6-2 in 10 games during this postseason while Francouz is 6-0. Francouz was pressed into action when Kuemper was sidelined with an eye injury earlier in the playoffs. When healthy, the net belongs to Kuemper.
Neither goalie has put up impressive numbers during the playoffs other than the win-loss record. Kuemper has a 2.65 goals-against average and saves percentage of .897. Francouz has a 2.86 GAA and saves a percentage of .906.
It would take quite the performance for a goalie other than Vasilevskiy to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.