Whenever a Cup champion is crowned, there is invariably more than one name worthy of the Conn Smythe. In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings won the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup thanks largely to the elite two-way game of defenceman Drew Doughty, but Doughty was not honoured as playoff MVP despite providing an irreplaceable dominant performance throughout the tournament. He’s doing it again.
The Kings have not yet won the 2014 Cup, but they’re the favourites, they lead the series 1-0, and they ice a lineup that features the best defenceman in the NHL. He wears number 8, Kings’ black and grey.
Like Nicklas Lidstrom before him, Doughty is evidence that great defencemen have an invaluable impact in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Simply look at a list of Norris Trophy winners and you’ll find that most have their name on the Cup. It’s not a coincidence. At any given time, there are only a handful of elite defencemen in the league, and those who are a cut above the competition, consistently dictate the games in which they play. Such influence on sixty minute matches is often the difference between winning and losing. Think Chris Pronger playing in three Cup Finals with three different teams from 2006 to 2010.
The Kings still need to win the Cup before Doughty can win the Conn Smythe. The New York Rangers will try and prevent that from happening, and they boast a great defenceman of their own. New York’s Ryan McDonagh has truly emerged as one of the game’s top blue liners, with stellar play throughout the season, at the Olympics, and here in the postseason. Elite defencemen are synonymous with Cup finalist teams, nine times out of ten. The Blackhawks have Keith. Their opponent last year, the Boston Bruins, have Zdeno Chara. Doughty, Keith and Chara have all led their teams to multiple Finals appearances over the past half decade, with help from their teammates, of course. But remove any of the elite defenceman named above from their teams and I’m not convinced they win the Cups they’ve won or make the Finals so often.
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick earned the Conn Smythe when L.A. won the Cup in 2012. Dustin Brown could’ve easily won it then, and you could say the same for Doughty.
Here in the now, Doughty has a great shot to earn his first Conn Smythe if he keeps dominating games and producing points, because after all, results speak louder than performance. In other words, on a night when Drew Doughty scores zero points, he is usually one of the best players on the ice for either team, but you don’t win a Conn Smythe that way. Numbers matter. His 17 points lead all defencemen in the playoffs, and place him amongst the top five scorers. Doughty has the numbers.
Since 1989 only four defencemen have won the Conn Smythe, and all of them are among the game’s greatest all-time: Al Macinnis ’89, Brian Leetch ’94, Nicklas Lidstrom ’02, Scott Niedermayer ’07. Drew Doughty is playing his way into such company this playoffs, and year after year.