Have we ever discussed how the Conn Smythe Trophy might be the NHL's weirdest award?

Let's start with the hardware itself. In 1964, the trophy was donated to the NHL by Maple Leaf Gardens, to be awarded to the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP and as a bauble to honor Hockey Hall of Fame-inducted builder Conn Smythe. For all the kvetching about Toronto's place as the "Centre of the Hockey Universe," the playoff MVP award (A) honors a former Maple Leafs owner and (B) is a scaled recreation of Maple Leaf Gardens and (C) features "a large silver botanically accurate maple leaf."

How did so many Montreal Canadiens players touch this thing without their skin bubbling, like a vampire touching a cross?

It's one of the most significant awards in the NHL, and yet also its most overshadowed. It's handed out moments before the Stanley Cup begins its parade about the ice in the champions' hands. For the Conn Smythe winner's teammates, it's like having a chance to realize a childhood dream only to have it delayed so everyone can hear who was named class valedictorian. For the Conn Smythe winner, winning the MVP with the Stanley Cup inches away is a lot like learning you've won a new washer/dryer as they're handing you that giant Powerball check.

The Conn Smythe is voted on by a group of 18 members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, a combination of national and local writers. Their votes became public in 2017, giving sunshine to a previously clandestine process so we could all see how many votes Tuukka Rask received in a losing effort during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

The Conn boasts one of the most eclectic assortments of winners for any NHL award. It can be superstar-centric. Sometimes that's warranted, like when Patrick Roy and Wayne Gretzky won the award multiple times. Sometimes the winner feels like a reputation-based default setting, like when Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe that Phil Kessel deserved in 2016. It can also be the only major award that some players win in their careers, like goalie Bill Ranford (1989), center Henrik Zetterberg (2008) and winger Justin Williams (2014), who never received a single vote for the Hart or Selke trophies.

Name another award where both Mario and Claude Lemieux could win it, and yet it makes total sense.

I'll wait.

Yet the randomness of the Conn Smythe isn't random at all. If you take a look at the past 25 Conn Smythe winners, you find a few interesting patterns. Here is the formula for determining a Conn Smythe winner.

 

1. Any position can win. My friend Sean McIndoe of The Athletic noted in 2020 that the Conn Smythe Trophy doesn't have the same positional bias as the Hart Trophy does for regular-season MVP. According to his findings, centers win the Hart Trophy 51% of the time and the Conn Smythe 31% of the time. Conversely, goalies win the Hart 9% of the time and the Conn Smythe 30% of the time.

His theory, and it's a good one: While voters assume that defensemen and goalies will get their cake with the Norris and Vezina in the regular season, there are no positional player awards like that in the playoffs.

 

2. Conn Smythe winners must play over 20 minutes per game. There have been 18 skaters since the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs who have won the Conn Smythe. Only three of them -- Crosby (2017), Williams (2014) and Joe Nieuwendyk (1999) -- played less than 20 minutes per game on average. (There wasn't time-on-ice tracking for Joe Sakic in 1995-96, but given his numbers in the playoffs in subsequent years, we can assume he was over 20 minutes.)

It gets even more specific for defensemen: All five defensemen who have won the Conn Smythe since 1996 have averaged over 25 minutes per game in the playoffs.