National Sports

Connor McDavid’s Stanley Cup playoff run was magical. It ended in misery.

SUNRISE, Fla. - Two minutes before midnight, the Conn Smythe Trophy was on its way out of Amerant Bank Arena. The Florida Panthers’ party still raged on the ice after they topped the Edmonton Oilers, 2-1, in Game 7 to capture the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, but the trophy awarded to the most valuable player in the postseason was not a part of it.

For the first time since 2003, for the first time for a non-goaltender since 1976 and for only the sixth time ever, the MVP of the playoffs was not among the jubilant celebrators. Edmonton forward Connor McDavid was awarded the Conn Smythe for his star turn in these playoffs, which included a near-singlehanded dragging of the Oilers back from the brink after trailing 3-0 in the series to force Game 7.

But after coming up just two goals short of the ultimate dream, after nearly pulling off a fairy tale ending for the ages in the building where the Oilers drafted him nine years ago, McDavid was nowhere to be found as a staffer carried his trophy away.

Minutes before, when a despondent McDavid met with the media, his summation of his feelings was simple.

“It sucks,” McDavid said. “It sucks.”

Perhaps more so than any other sport, hockey is known for its shunning of individual accomplishments in favor of a focus on the team’s results. There is nothing more antithetical to a hockey player than accepting a major individual honor after his team suffered a devastating loss.

McDavid, as Edmonton’s captain, remained on the ice long after the final horn sounded, waiting for all of his teammates to process through the handshake line with the Panthers before he finally followed them down the tunnel. When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took the microphone to announce the winner of the Conn Smythe, McDavid was long gone.


With 42 points in 25 playoff games this year, the 27-year-old Ontario native sits fourth on the all-time list; only Wayne Gretzky (twice) and Mario Lemieux have ever recorded more points in a playoff run. The 34 assists McDavid racked up broke Gretzky’s record of 31 from 1988.

The Conn Smythe is voted on by a panel of media members from the Professional Hockey Writers Association; The Washington Post does not vote on the award. Ballots were due with 10 minutes left in Game 7, and McDavid was a near-unanimous selection - only one voter didn’t put him first on their ballot.

“He’s the greatest player to ever play, in my books,” said Leon Draisaitl, McDavid’s Oilers teammate. “So many things that a lot of people don’t see that he does, his work ethic. He single-handedly turned our franchise around, pretty much. Just love sharing the ice with him. He’s just a really, really special person.”

McDavid was held without a point in the final two games of the finals, but it was his back-to-back four-point games in Games 4 and 5 that gave Edmonton life. It was his 10 points in six games against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals that put the Oilers in position to play for the Stanley Cup. It was his nine points in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks that got Edmonton past the second round for just the second time since he joined the team in 2015.

“You think about the year that Connor had: 100 assists, leading our team, the performance he had in this playoffs, especially in this final round when we’re down three games to zero and then he comes out with eight points in two games,” Oilers Coach Kris Knoblauch said. “Yeah, he’s our leader, he’s our best player and obviously everybody wanted to win it for the team and we’d like to obviously do it [for] him, the captain of our team. I can’t say enough things about what he provides, the leadership and what he does on the ice.”

Even Florida captain Aleksander Barkov, in the immediate aftermath of achieving every hockey player’s biggest dream, remained in awe of his counterpart on the other side of the ice.

“He’s probably the most talented hockey player I’ve ever seen in my life,” Barkov said. “Obviously, I never played against Gretzky, but I can imagine he’s something similar.”

Perhaps one day, with the benefit of hindsight and distance from the immediate pain, McDavid will take pride in the accomplishment of being the MVP of the playoffs. But for now, traveling back to Edmonton with the Conn Smythe in tow - instead of the trophy the Oilers wanted to bring home - serves only as a reminder that he gave everything he had, and it still wasn’t enough.

“There’s no player in the world that wants to win a Stanley Cup more than him,” Draisaitl said. “He does everything right, every single day, just to win it one day. It’s really hard with him being sad and being disappointed at the end.”