Just three teams remain in the NHL playoffs as the quest for the Stanley Cup reaches its climax. The Colorado Avalanche swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals, and now they await their opponent in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Avalanche are currently -225 favorites to win the Stanley Cup at BetMGM.
In the East, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning are tied at two games a piece, with each team winning both of their home games. However, the Lightning are -130 road favorites in Game 5 and -155 favorites to win the series, despite New York having home-ice advantage. The Rangers haven't lost a home game in these playoffs since Game 1 of Round 1. The Lightning are +333 to win the Cup, while the Rangers are +600.
We know one of these three teams will win the Stanley Cup, but who will win the Conn Smythe Trophy? The Conn Smythe is awarded to the playoff MVP. Currently, the top two favorites are members of the Avalanche, which makes sense considering Colorado is a prohibitive favorite to win it all. Who else is on top of the leaderboard, and are there any long shots worth a bet?
Makar and MacKinnon are the favorites
Cale Makar currently leads the Colorado Avalanche in scoring in these playoffs, as he's posted 22 points in just 14 games. His 1.57 points per game is the highest mark of any player who's team is still playing. Did I mention he's a defenseman? Only one other defenseman in these playoffs (Adam Fox of the Rangers) has averaged more than a point per game.
Makar had 10 points in the first round sweep against Nashville, and 9 points in the conference finals sweep of Edmonton. In Game 4 of this past round, Makar had a goal and four assists to help Colorado punch their ticket to the Cup finals. On a team loaded with elite talent, Makar is arguably the biggest driving force. When he and Devon Toews are on the ice together, the Avalanche have a 59.5% expected goal rate, which is the best mark for any defensive pairing that has played at least 140 minutes together in these playoffs. Thanks to his production and ability to control the game, Makar is the current Conn Smythe favorite at +170.
Right behind Makar according to the odds is teammate Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon has 11 goals in these playoffs, which is second overall and first amongst players still playing. MacKinnon is producing at a 1.29 points per game clip, fourth best amongst players who haven't been eliminated. The Avalanche superstar is +190 to win playoff MVP.
Behind those two, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen both have 17 points in 14 games. Rantanen is 11-to-1 to win the Conn Smythe, while Landeskog is 14-to-1. Devon Toews, who has 13 points in 14 games from the backend, is 66-to-1 to win it. Nazem Kadri, who is currently injured with an uncertain status for the Cup Finals, is 100-to-1.
Darcy Kuemper is Colorado's No. 1 goaltender, but he's dealt with some injuries in these playoffs. As a result. Pavel Francouz has started four games and appeared in six total, posting a 6-0 record. Francouz got all four wins in the conference final, including the final three as a starter. It's assumed that Kuemper will return for the Stanley Cup Finals, but that isn't confirmed. Either way, it's hard to envision a world where the Avalanche goaltender is asked to do enough to build enough of a resume to win the Conn Smythe. Both Kuemper and Francouz are 35-to-1 to win the award.
Is a goalie the best bet from the East?
As mentioned above, the Avalanche are currently sizable -225 favorites to win the Stanley Cup and definitely will be the betting favorites against either Tampa Bay or New York. There's good reason for that. Colorado is playing to a 57.7% expected-goal rate in these playoffs. Tampa Bay is at 52.7%, while the Rangers are at 39.5%. Colorado is averaging 40.7 shots per game in these playoffs.
No matter who comes out of the East, they will be underdogs and the Avalanche will likely be firing plenty of pucks towards their net. So if you're interested in fading the Avalanche in the Finals, the two goaltenders in the East might be the way to go for a Conn Smythe bet.
Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay and Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers are currently the two best goalies in hockey. Shesterkin has a .929 save percentage in these playoffs, while Vasilevskiy has a .925 mark. Shesterkin has stopped 17.2 goals over expectation in these playoffs, leading the league. Vasilevskiy is second best with a 11.2 GSAx mark.
If the Rangers make it to the Cup finals, they'll need a super human performance from Shesterkin. As mentioned above, Colorado takes an average of nearly 41 shots per game, and the Rangers are allowing nearly 39 shots per game. Colorado's dominant in the puck possession game, while the Rangers are the worst of all 16 playoff teams in that regard according to the metrics.
A member of the losing team hasn't won the Conn Smythe since 2003, when Jean-Sebastien Giguere won it despite his Mighty Ducks losing to the Devils. Before that, it hadn't happened since 1987. Of the five players to win the Conn Smythe in a losing effort, four have been goaltenders. If it's ever going to happen again, it could be in a situation like this where Shesterkin is facing 40 shots a night and turns this into a long series by stealing a few games. Shesterkin is +800 to win the Conn Smythe currently.
If the Lightning come out of the East, they might ask slightly less of Vasilevskiy than the Rangers would of Shesterkin, but he'd still need to be on the very top of his game. Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe in 2021, and he's +850 to repeat the feat this year.
Other players worth a look in the East
While the goalies are the main headliners in the East, there are certainly other players developing solid playoff resumes.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov: Kucherov trails only Cale Makar amongst players still playing in terms of points per game in these playoffs. He's got 7 goals, 14 assists and 21 points in just 15 games. He's got goals in back-to-back games to help the Lightning even the conference finals. Kucherov is +850 to win the award.
Victor Hedman: The hulking defenseman won the Conn Smythe in 2020, and he'll always be in the mix as one of the very best defensemen in this league. Tampa Bay has a 59% expected goal share when he's on the ice in these playoffs. Hedman is 22-to-1 to win the Conn Smythe.
Steven Stamkos: Stamkos had a 42-goal regular season, finishing tied for 9th in the league. He's got seven in 15 playoff games, tied for the team lead. While his resume isn't there yet, he's the type of player who could score 8 goals in a 7 game series and quickly push himself into the conversation. Stamkos is 40-to-1 to win the award.
New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad: Zibanejad's 24 points trails only the now eliminated Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the playoff scoring leaders. He's been a force, especially on the powerplay in these playoffs. If someone other than Shesterkin wins this award for the Rangers, it'd be a shock, but Mika certainly has a case. Zibanejad is 22-to-1 to win the award.
Adam Fox: Fox is right behind Zibanejad with 23 points, and he's been the second most productive defenseman in these playoffs on a per-game basis behind Makar. The former Norris Trophy winner is 30-to-1 to win the Conn Smythe.
Chris Kreider: Coming off a 52 goal regular season, Kreider has 10 in these playoffs, which is tied for fourth most in these playoffs. The question with Kreider is whether he has enough of an impact on games when he's not scoring. He's 50-to-1 to win the award.