In defeat, Oilers’ Connor McDavid wins Conn Smythe Trophy

SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor McDavid won a trophy in Game 7 against the Florida Panthers. Just not the one he wanted to win.

The Edmonton Oilers were defeated by the Florida Panthers 2-1 to end their miraculous comeback in the Stanley Cup Final, having forced a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the series — only the third team in NHL history to accomplish that feat. In leading that comeback, and having a record-breaking postseason, McDavid was announced as the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 2024 postseason.

McDavid is the sixth player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe from team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final. He’s only the second skater after Reggie Leach of the Philadelphia Flyers, who was named MVP in 1976. The other winners were all goaltenders who lost in the Final: Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim in 2003, Ron Hextall of Philadelphia in 1987, Glenn Hall of St. Louis in 1968 and Roger Crozier of Detroit in 1966.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced McDavid as the Conn Smythe winner, with the trophy positioned atop a podium on the ice. There it stayed as Panthers fans booed the selection. McDavid had left for the Edmonton dressing room and did not reemerge to accept the award.

After the game, as the Panthers’ ongoing Cup celebration could be heard in the distance, a despondent McDavid briefly acknowledged the achievement.

“Yeah, obviously, I guess it’s an honor. With the names on that trophy. But … yeah,” he said.

McDavid earned the Conn Smythe thanks to one of the most dominant runs by an individual player in NHL playoff history.

His 42 points are the fourth most in a single postseason in NHL history behind only Wayne Gretzky (47 in 1985 and 43 in 1988) and Mario Lemieux (44 in 1991), who both won the Conn Smythe in those seasons. His 11 points in the Stanley Cup Final were two points shy of tying the Stanley Cup Final record held by Wayne Gretzky with 13 in 1988. He posted back-to-back four-point games in the Final, the first player in NHL history to do so, in rallying the Oilers.

But the crowning achievement of his postseason run was shattering Wayne Gretzky’s record for assists in a single postseason (31 in 1988) with 34 helpers in 24 games.

“He’s the greatest player to ever play, in my books,” said his teammate and friend Leon Draisaitl after Game 7. “So many things that a lot of people don’t see that he does. His work ethic. He singlehandedly turned our franchise around, pretty much. Just love sharing the ice with him. He’s just a really, really special person.”

Draisaitl was asked about McDavid winning the MVP award in a losing effort.

“I don’t think he cares,” Draisaitl said. “I mean, it speaks to how amazing of a hockey player he is. There’s no player in the world that wants to win a Stanley Cup more than him. 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.”

McDavid’s MVP performance stretches back to the regular season, where he led the Oilers back from an atrocious first 12 games (2-9-1) to rally for a playoff berth.

“Proud of the way we fought all year. Behind the eight ball almost immediately. We fought an uphill climb for months and months and months,” McDavid said. “[This] just … sucks.”

McDavid went from 10 points in his first 11 games to 122 points in his next 65 games.

“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,” said Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch, who also coached McDavid with the Erie Otters in junior hockey.

“Yeah, he’s our leader. He’s our best player. Obviously everybody wanted to win it for the team and we’d like to obviously do it [for] him, the captain of our team,” Knoblauch said. “I can’t say enough things about what he provides: the leadership and what he does on the ice.”

McDavid had a frustrating end to his postseason, with no points in the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Oilers captain praised the Panthers for the way they played in Game 7.

“We knew it was going to be a real tight game and it was going to come down to one thing here and there. We’re an inch away from going ahead 2-1 right before they go ahead 2-1,” he said, referencing a bouncing puck that the Panthers cleared from their crease before Sam Reinhart scored the game winner in the second period. “They did a good job of shutting things down. We had our looks. We just didn’t find it.”

This was the farthest McDavid has ever advanced in the Stanley Cup playoffs, having established a “Cup or bust” mentality for his team before the season.

In nine seasons, McDavid has captured five scoring titles, one goal-scoring title, three Hart Trophy wins as league MVP and the NHLPA’s player of the year four times. Now, he adds the Conn Smythe Trophy to that collection.

But not the Stanley Cup.

“We never stopped believing. We really believed we were going to get one. Lots of looks. It just didn’t go,” McDavid said. “It sucks. … It sucks.”

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