AVALANCHE

Cale Makar shouldn’t have won the Conn Smythe Trophy

Jun 29, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:09 am
Cale Makar...
Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Let’s start with a bit of a disclaimer. This is somewhat of an attempt to limit the vitriol in the comments and my social media mentions. It’s also a test to see who actually read beyond the headline.

Cale Makar is a great player. He’s the best defenseman in the National Hockey League, evidenced by him winning the Norris Trophy this season. He’s going to end up being one of the best players in Avalanche history, destined to have his No. 8 hung in the rafters at Ball Arena. And the comparisons to Bobby Orr, universally considered the best defenseman in this history of the league, are completely reasonable.

The 23-year-old star had a great postseason. There’s no doubting that fact. He finished third in total points during the playoffs, racking up 29 in 20 games. And he was a vital part of the Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup.

That said, he shouldn’t have won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Without a doubt, the choice shouldn’t have been unanimous.

That’s not a slam on Makar. Rather, it’s a vote for his teammate, Nathan MacKinnon.

Colorado’s center is so good, he makes the extraordinary look easy. As a result, his talents get taken for granted after nine seasons in the NHL.

Such was the case in the playoffs. MacKinnon was nothing short of amazing, yet he didn’t get a single vote from the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the best player in this year’s postseason. That ludicrous.

A case can certainly be made that MacKinnon was better than Makar in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And it’s a pretty compelling one.

MacKinnon had more goals than Makar, besting him by a 13-8 count. He had the most goals on the Avalanche during their Cup run and was tied for the most in the league throughout the playoffs.

He also had a better plus/minus than his teammate. During the 20 games Colorado played in the postseason, MacKinnon was +11. Makar was +7.

Makar led the Avs in points during the playoffs with 29. MacKinnon was third on the team with 24. But, the vast majority of Makar’s points came on assists. He had 21 during the 20-game run.

For context, Mikko Rantanen was second on the team with 25 points during the postseason. That’ll surprise most people, as he was widely considered to have a lackluster playoffs. Why? Because 20 of his 25 points came on assists.

There are certainly intangibles at play. Makar posted his numbers as a defenseman, which is extremely impressive. But he’s an offensive-minded defenseman. He’s always on the attack. So he certainly gets plenty of opportunities.

That said, he is a great two-way player. He did an excellent job throughout the playoffs dealing with the likes of Conor McDavid, Steven Stamkos and others.

But he also had a few blunders. His inability to get to a lose puck cost the Avs a chance to come from behind in a Game 2 loss to the Blues and his turnover in Game 6 against the Lightning helped stake Tampa Bay to an early lead. Makar also had some ill-timed penalties, including a crucial one that led to a 4-on-3 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

MacKinnon didn’t have many, if any, of those moments. But he did have the most-overlooked performance of the postseason.

He almost singlehandedly staked the Avs to a late lead in Game 5 against the Blues. His end-to-end goal with less than three minutes to play should’ve been the game winner. His highlight-reel goal capped what should’ve been one of the most-memorable hat tricks in recent history, a performance that should’ve sent the Avs to the Western Conference Final.

Darcy Kuemper allowed a last-minute goal, however, as St. Louis forced overtime. And then the Blues won to stave off elimination.

Had the late collapse not happened, MacKinnon’s performance in that game would’ve been the signature moment of the team’s postseason run. It probably would’ve earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Instead, it’s largely forgotten. Nobody wants to fondly look back on a loss.

They do, however, want to remember all of the great moments from the postseason run. And the Avs had plenty.

Nazem Kadri’s hat trick in St. Louis was special. J.T. Compher coming out of the penalty box to score an all-time hustle goal was great. Darren Helm’s last-second game winner to eliminate the Blues was thrilling. Josh Manson’s “save” when he stepped into the crease to fill the void left by an out-of-position Kuemper was super heads up. Artturi Lehkonen’s six game-winning goals were the epitome of clutch.

Notice, Makar’s name doesn’t come up. It’s not that he didn’t have moments. His one-on-one stoppage against McDavid was a tremendous hockey play in Western Conference Final. But that’s a deep dive. It’s on the B side of the greatest hits.

Meanwhile, MacKinnon was awesome in the game that won the Cup. He scored the game-tying goal and assisted on the game-winner.

That assist demonstrates his biggest impact. It came on a pass to Lehkonen.

Why did players like Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin, J.T. Compher and others have the chance to shine in this series? Because the opposition is forced to pay so much attention to MacKinnon.

His speed opens things up for everyone else on the ice. His presence dictates line changes, as other teams try to keep him contained.

MacKinnon is the straw that stirs the drink. He’s the player that makes everything work for the Avalanche.

That doesn’t mean Makar isn’t great. It doesn’t mean he isn’t important. It simply means that he’s not Batman; he’s Robin.

Nathan MacKinnon should’ve won the Conn Smythe Trophy. He was the Avalanche’s most valuable player during their championship run.

***

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Cale Makar shouldn’t have won the Conn Smythe Trophy