There are a few things we already know about the winner of the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the player judged most valuable to his team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We know he'll have played in the Final, as no player has won the award without playing for the Cup. We know he'll likely be from the winning team, as only five Conn Smythe winners since the award was introduced in 1965 were from runners-up to the champion. We know this player will likely be a center (18 times) or a goalie (16 times), because wingers have only won eight times and defensemen 10.
What we don't know is if he'll have been a pre-playoffs favorite to win the Cup, or an underdog that came out of nowhere to win one.
Here's a look at each team, and the players that we think are favored for MVP and ones that could sneak up and snatch the trophy if their team wins the Stanley Cup.
Note: Teams are displayed in order of their odds to win the Cup, per the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Nashville Predators (4-1)
Rinne would have won the Conn Smythe last season had he been able to play better in Pittsburgh, which I realize is a real chicken-or-the-egg type of situation. But if he's the netminder when they win the Cup, he'll be right there with the leading scorer for the playoffs as an MVP candidate. Ellis is much more of a long shot, given the prestige that P.K. Subban and Roman Josi have, but his 0.73 points per game since coming back from injury puts him third overall on the team.
Tampa Bay Lightning (5-1)
Obviously, a 100-point player is going to be favored to contend for playoff MVP, but Kucherov also has 19 points in his last 17 postseason games. Frankly, we trust his health more than that of Steven Stamkos. Point has yet to appear in the playoffs but has 32 goals and 34 assists in the regular season and won't see the tough matchups that Kucherov and Stamkos will.
Pittsburgh Penguins (7-1)
This is where we lament that Phil should already have one Conn Smythe on his mantle ... or wherever Phil keeps his trophies, like under some dirty clothes atop his dresser. But Sidney Crosby won instead of Phil in 2016, and then deserved to win in 2017. So we're wagering it might be Phil's turn in 2018 if the Penguins three-peat. Meanwhile, Murray is basically the wallpaper behind these Pittsburgh Cups -- always there, but never commented on as much as he should be.
Boston Bruins (8-1)
Bergeron is so beloved by the media, and rightfully so, that it'll take just a competent playoff performance for him to win the Conn Smythe should the Bruins win the Cup. But if the top line is somehow held in check, what about Krejci stealing the MVP with a secondary scoring effort? His last two postseasons have been rather bad -- four assists in 15 games -- but he had 40 points in 47 games during the two Bruins runs to the Final. And now he has Rick Nash on his wing, for the moment.
Winnipeg Jets (8-1)
Oh, the coronation it would be if the Jets win the Stanley Cup and Laine leads them in goals. We've gotten a taste before of what he can do in the spotlight -- please recall his World Juniors exploits -- and it's a joy to have him on this stage. But Scheifele is our underdog, because all he does is amass numbers at a point-per-game clip when healthy. A spot near the top of the scoring leaderboard and a couple big goals could mean MVP honors.
Vegas Golden Knights (10-1)
Full disclosure: We wanted to put Marc-Andre Fleury as the favorite, until we realized that there are better odds rolling craps than anticipating that Flower plays every game of every round in these playoffs. So we'll opt for Marchessault, who was second on the team in points and tied for first with six game-winners. Haula had a 29-goal season, has 13 points in 24 playoff games in a depth role with Minnesota, and is the kind of relentless player who can thrive in the postseason.
Toronto Maple Leafs (14-1)
The default answer here is probably Auston Matthews, but given that Andersen is going to face upwards of 35 shots per game, his stats and his impact on wins might be emphatic enough to earn him MVP honors. Marner could be a sneaky MVP candidate if he manages to factor into enough big moments while playing down the lineup -- even if his playoff beard is expected to suck, as predicted by Marner himself.
Washington Capitals (16-1)
After years of actually being the Capitals star player who was underwhelming in the playoffs (unlike Alex Ovechkin), Backstrom's been great: 24 points in his last 25 postseason games. Tuesday's revelation that Philipp Grubauer will be the Capitals' Game 1 starter means that Holtby is in the same spot that Cory Schneider is in for the Devils: Veteran starter, suddenly the backup, but primed to ride in and save the day. If he's up for it. And not playing the Penguins.
Anaheim Ducks (20-1)
The Ducks' captain has 118 points in 121 career playoff games, including 19 points in 17 games last season. He's an offensive force, and the kind of leader who the voters love to honor. Meanwhile, Henrique had 13 points in 24 playoff games for the Devils in his only postseason action, but that included three game-winning goals. Ask the Rangers about it.
San Jose Sharks (20-1)
Couture is just made for this stuff. He's a "win by any means necessary" type of player. Please recall his 30 points in 24 games during the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. Vlasic puts up minimal points, but could be rewarded as a linchpin type player if he excels in a shutdown role during the playoffs and no Sharks scorer presents as compelling a case.
Columbus Blue Jackets (20-1)
"As Bob goes, so go the Blue Jackets" has been the story since he arrived in Columbus, and one assumes he'll be key to whatever they accomplish in the postseason. He'll need to be worlds better than his putrid .887 career postseason save percentage, which is hopefully just a product of having played the Penguins in three of his four playoffs. Jones could have a stats and defensive impact case to go along with the fact that the voters would love to honor a well-regarded young star for a championship run.
Los Angeles Kings (25-1)
The thing about the Kings: If they win the Cup, that means either Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty or Jonathan Quick is winning a Conn Smythe. Quick already has one, so we'll go with Kopitar as the favorite, given his incredible regular-season and strong playoff numbers. So, that established: Carter isn't exactly an underdog when it comes to name recognition, but he's got to make a stronger case than three teammates to win the Conn. Heck, Justin Williams did it, but he needed a bunch of Game 7 heroics for that to happen.
Minnesota Wild (30-1)
Zucker had a breakout season with 33 goals and 31 assists, playing alongside the resurrection of Eric Staal. He doesn't have sterling playoff numbers, but he's coming into his own as an offensive force. Spurgeon might not seem like a natural choice -- defensemen rarely are -- but the combination of Ryan Suter's absence and decent playoff numbers (15 points in 34 games before last postseason) might put some extra focus on hm.
New Jersey Devils (40-1)
Favorite: Taylor Hall, LW
Underdog: Cory Schneider, G
The Devils wouldn't be here without Hall, whose 93 points were 41 better than the next highest scorer on the team. His first trip to the playoffs could be one to remember. But how's this for an underdog: Scheneider, who will begin the postseason as a backup to Keith Kincaid. Maybe Kincaid falters, having never handled this high of a work rate before. Maybe Schneider -- with a .922 career playoff save percentage in 10 games -- slides in to make the save? Not plausible, but possible, eh?
Colorado Avalanche (40-1)
Not much more can be said about MacKinnon's incredible 39-goal season, with a 1.31 points-per-game average that powered the Avalanche into contention. They'll need that, and maybe more, to compete in the postseason. Bernier, meanwhile, was sort of a secret MVP during their run, with 19 wins in 37 games and acting as a stabilizing force as Semyon Varlamov dealt with injuries. It's his crease to start, as Varlamov will miss Round 1.
Philadelphia Flyers (40-1)
Giroux (usually, when healthy) brings it in the postseason, to the tune of 62 points in 63 playoff games, which is like "Danny Briere" good. Gostisbehere has a chance to win the Conn Smythe if he ends up first or second on the Flyers in postseason scoring and the defensive numbers underscore that effort. And if Giroux doesn't present a better case, because Giroux will totally win if he's the one presented with the Cup in June.