The Stanley Cup could be awarded Thursday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins hold a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the San Jose Sharks and have a chance to clinch a championship on home ice for the first time after winning the previous three on the road.
Barring a historic comeback—only one of 32 teams in NHL history have overcome a 3-1 deficit in a Cup Final—the Conn Smythe Trophy is likely to be awarded to a Penguin. That doesn't mean a Shark can't win the Conn Smythe in losing fashion or hoist it after winning three straight games, but it's highly unlikely.
So who are the favourites to win the award? Some are obvious, but along with the likes of Phil Kessel, Matt Murray and Sidney Crosby, perhaps the voters will consider taking a deeper look at some outside-the-box candidates that have had just as big an impact on a potential championship as the competitors themselves.
Let's take a look at both the frontrunners and long shots.
Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why he deserves it: It's not Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins in scoring this postseason—it's Kessel. He has 10 goals and 21 points and has been a model of consistency throughout the postseason. His points by round are six, six, six and now three in four games.
Why he doesn't deserve it: Kessel's production has come as a member of the third line with Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin. It's Malkin and Crosby who are matched up against everyone's top defencemen, allowing Kessel to feast on lesser competition. This didn't stop Justin Williams from winning the Conn Smythe in 2014 but Kessel's marketing department hasn't given him a cool nickname like "Mr. Game 7" yet.
Joe Paw-velski, San Jose Sharks
Why he deserves it: Is it really a coincidence that the Sharks found a good luck cat at the start of the second round and now they are in their first Stanley Cup Final? The team has won nine games since the cat came into their lives. Nine games, nine lives. It just can't be coincidence.
Why he doesn't deserve it: It's a coincidence. It's a cat, people.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why he deserves it: The 21-year-old has a .925 save percentage, which is the third-best mark this postseason. After Marc-Andre Fleury crumbled in what was supposed to be a triumphant return in Game 5 of the conference finals, Murray stepped in and won two elimination games by stopping 44 of 47 shots. He hasn't been asked to do much but that shouldn't be held against him.
Why he doesn't deserve it: He hasn't been asked to do much and that should be held against him. He has faced more than 30 shots in just six games, although he is 5-1 with a .928 save percentage. Conn Smythes are usually reserved for goaltenders that have exceptional two-month performances, and while Murray has been great, he hasn't been exceptional.
Shania Twain, Dallas Stars
Why she deserves it: Oh, because Shania never touched the ice in a playoff game, that makes her ineligible? How else would you explain the Dallas Stars getting to a Game 7 in round two without Tyler Seguin? An easy first-round matchup and an overall team effort? Or the incessant playing of her music in the locker room? At the very least, she did more to help the Stars than Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.
Why she doesn't deserve it: So the Stars played your music a lot? That don't impress me much.
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Why he deserves it: With 22 points in 22 games, a point-per-game defenceman always has a shot, even if it's with a losing team. If Burns were having the same postseason with the Penguins, he's probably a lock for the award.
Why he doesn't deserve it: If he truly cared about his team's chances at winning the Cup, he would have kidnapped Roman Polak and Brendan Dillon or given them food poisoning after Game 2. That shows a critical lack of dedication to winning.
Brent Burns' beard, San Jose Sharks
Why it deserves it: Its existence alone has to be worth at least one victory, which is more than anyone can say about the Polak-Dillon pairing. The media loves talking about coaches serving as distractions when things are going badly; go ahead and name something more distracting than Burns' beard.
Why it doesn't deserve it: A precedent was set in 1989, as the Calgary Flames won the Stanley Cup and Lanny McDonald's mustache failed to receive a single vote.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why he deserves it: Even when he's not scoring, he's doing so many things to help his team win. Three of his six goals were game-winners in the conference finals and he can take credit for designing a face-off play that led to Conor Sheary's OT goal in Game 2 against the Sharks. He's playing about 20 minutes a night and controlling 5-on-5 play against the other team's best players.
Why he doesn't deserve it: If Murray's .925 save percentage doesn't warrant consideration based on what past winners have done, then Crosby's 17 points in 21 games is even further below the mark. He was a non-entity in the second round against the Capitals, producing two assists in six games. In four games against the Sharks so far, he has just two assists. Also, his beard has to cost him votes.
The witch that put on a hex on the Tampa Bay Lightning, No Affiliation
Why she deserves it: The Lightning won 11 of 16 games without Steven Stamkos. Anton Stralman didn't play until Game 1 of the conference finals. Ben Bishop's leg exploded during Game 1 of the conference finals. The Lightning and Penguins were separated by one goal in one game so if not for the spell cast on Tampa, this narrow race between Murray, Kessel and Crosby wouldn't be happening.
Why she doesn't deserve it: I'm not giving reasons for why someone this powerful shouldn't win. I'm already bald so I can't imagine what she'd do to make things worse for me.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why he deserves it: Letang has been the anchor of an otherwise unspectacular defence group that lost Trevor Daley, its second-best defenceman, at the end of the second round. He plays 30 minutes per game and is probably the only truly irreplaceable member of the Penguins in the playoffs.
Why he doesn't deserve it: Two goals and 13 points in 21 games just won't cut it. He can be the biggest possession monster in the world but that's just not enough production to vault him ahead of his teammates.
Why you deserve it: You've watched despite no Canadian teams in the whole thing and no Original Six teams after the first round. You've watched despite endless reviews for offside and goaltender interference on a tablet the size of... well, a tablet. You've dealt with Pierre McGuire referring to Matt Murray as Matt Martin and late start times. Without you, there is no Conn Smythe Trophy.
Why you don't deserve it: When is the last time the NHL gave the fans something they deserve?