Usually by this time of year, we’d have a pretty clear idea of who’s going into the Cup Final on a Conn Smythe shortlist. This season, we’re left with more of a “longlist,” and that’s kind of exciting.

For the Kings, Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown would be the favourites. For the Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are definitely in the mix. That’s only a reasonable list of four players, but it seems like there are a lot more potential sleeper Conn Smythe candidates heading into the Final than there usually are by now.

In Los Angeles, guys like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Justin Williams could be right in the thick of the playoff scoring race with a big series. Drew Doughty has been good enough defensively while also contributing offensively that you’d have to think a standout series from the blueliner would have his name rightfully in the debate.

In New Jersey, I don’t think you can ever count Martin Brodeur out of a Conn Smythe conversation. Travis Zajac has been right up there with Parise. Rookie Adam Henrique might have an outside shot. You could argue Bryce Salvador has been the best defenceman in the playoffs so far.

Then there are the real sleeper candidates, guys that don’t usually come to mind like David Clarkson for the Devils or Dustin Penner for the Kings, who have each scored some big goals this post-season and could be a couple of game-winners or big games away from emerging as potential candidates. Very unlikely, but based on how the 2012 Playoffs have gone so far, not outside the realm of possibility.

The point is that while there is a list of five or six guys at the top, there seems to be a plethora of guys on the fringe who may be a moment or two from joining the Conn Smythe conversation. Wouldn’t it be great to not only see a hotly contested Stanley Cup Final, but also a Conn Smythe race that goes down to the wire?

Now for your morning links: