Could Conn Smythe come to town?
Think back eight or nine years and you’ll recall that so much of the discussion around one of that spring’s top draft prospects was whether or not he was too small to be impactful in the NHL.
Freelton’s Ryan Ellis had won a world under-17 gold medal, a world under-18 gold medal, two Memorial Cup rings, had made three visits to the world juniors which brought him a gold and two silver medals, he had a monster of a shot from the point and world-class hockey IQ. At five-foot-nine or so, the only thing he didn’t have in his hockey tool belt was massive size. Remember those concerns? You do? Well, you can forget them now. Any lingering doubts about his ability to be a star at the highest level have completely dissolved in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
After eight games against Chicago and now St. Louis, the 26-yearold has a team-leading nine points and goes into Friday’s game riding a seven-game points streak.
As we approach the midway point of the playoffs, the Nashville Predators’ defenceman with the Gandalf beard is one of the clear favourites for the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP. If his team can advance to the final and win the Cup — which doesn’t look like a huge stretch at this point — he’d be right in the mix for the rare honour. This has never happened before to someone from here.
The closest we’ve ever had to a winner of this award was Ken Dryden who was born in Hamilton and won in 1971. But he moved away as a tot almost before they could issue his birth certificate so really, we’re still waiting.
Ellis being in consideration for such an award would be a tremendous positive jolt to the local hockey community all by itself. But there’s more. Because another guy who’s already being mentioned in early Conn Smythe discussions also calls Hamilton home.
That would be Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot.
While there were never any concerns about his size — he’s six-footthree and 200 pounds — all the other doubts and questions Ellis faced as he worked his way toward stardom were mirrored by the 29-yearold Ancaster resident who grew up in Caledonia. Never drafted into the OHL, never drafted into the NHL, barely scouted by U.S. college teams, he was the afterthought of all afterthoughts just a few years ago.
Yet today, the Edmonton Journal, the National Post, thehockeywriters.com and other publications are arguing that he’s at least the Oilers’ co-MVP with Connor McDavid and maybe should be considered the choice. Not just writers and broadcasters, either.
“I’m so impressed by Cam Talbot,” some guy named Wayne Gretzky told Sportsnet the other day.
“For him to have the year he had, he’s sort of the unsung captain of the hockey club, so to speak.”
Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
The Great One is unsurprisingly correct. In these playoffs, Talbot’s been the best guy in orange most nights. Take him out of Edmonton’s net and they’re probably golfing right now.
Eliminate a few controversial goals that probably shouldn’t have counted — Twitter loudly suggests there were three of those on Wednesday night alone — and the Oilers are a win away from eliminating one of the favourites after eliminating last year’s Cup finalists.
They’re not the only guys being talked about for the Conn Smythe, of course. There have been other terrific performances this spring. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is in the mix for sure, as are New York’s Henrik Lundqvist, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Pittsburgh’s Marc-André Fleury.
What makes this all so unique is that any discussion about major NHL awards hardly ever includes anyone from Hamilton.
Harry Howell famously won the Norris Trophy as best defenceman in 1967. Burlington’s Gaye Stewart won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1943. Don Edwards shared the Vezina Trophy as best goalie in 1980. And Dryden — include him or not — won a few baubles over the years. But that’s it. Our list is short. Too short. We’re still a long way from home. A few more starring weeks by Ellis or Talbot though and we could be adding one more name to it.
email@example.com 905-526-2440 | @radleyatthespec Spectator columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights from 7 to 9 on 900CHML.
Harry Zolnierczyk (26) hugs defenceman Ryan Ellis after Ellis scored against St. Louis in Game 4.
Cam Talbot makes a save against Nick Ritchie of the Anaheim Ducks.