TAMPA, Fla. — Cale Makar seems to win whatever he wants. He became the Avalanche’s first Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman last Tuesday. Sunday, he etched his name in the record book.
Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs after Colorado defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 to win the Stanley Cup Final in six games. Makar received all 18 first-place votes to become the first unanimous winner of the award since select attending media from the Professional Hockey Writers Association began voting in 2017.
“So grateful and just honored to be a part of this success and to help guys who have been through all of the ups and downs succeed, it’s surreal,” Makar said postgame. “I’m not too worried about the sentimental stuff but just the celebrating is the main thing with the boys. It’s awesome to be able to have family here too.”
Makar, 23, is the youngest Conn Smythe winner since 2010 when Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews won it at the age of 21. Former Avs goalie Patrick Roy was the youngest to ever win it (1986 at age 20 with the Montreal Canadiens). Roy also won it with the Avs at age 35 in 2001.
“No brainer.” Avs veteran defensman Erik Johnson said of Makar being named playoff MVP. “So proud of him. Most humble kid. Great head on his shoulders. He’s just amazing.”
Makar’s trophy case is certainly a testament to that. He won the Hobey Baker Award as a UMass sophomore in 2019 and captured the Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie in 2020.
Makar led the Avalanche with 29 postseason points and his eight goals were third behind Nathan MacKinnon (13) and Gabe Landeskog (11) during this Stanley Cup run. His 29 points make him the NHL’s third-leading scorer in the postseason (tops among defensemen) and are second-most in an Avalanche playoff year since Joe Sakic had 34 en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1996.
Only three other defensemen have produced 29 points in a playoff year — Paul Coffey (37 for Edmonton in 1985), Brian Leetch (34 for the New York Rangers in 1994) and Al MacInnis (31 for Calgary in 1989). Makar’s 21 assists are also fourth-most all-time behind Coffey (25 in 1985), MacInnis (24 in 1989) and Leetch (23 in 1994).
“Hard to describe what he means to our team, how special of a player he is, how special of a person he is. I’m not surprised by anything he does anymore because we’ve been seeing it for a couple years,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said postgame of Makar. “Even now in the playoffs he’s elevated his game and helped push our team over the top.”
Equally as important as his scoring is his ability to defend and lead zone exits. End to end and side to side, Makar is Colorado’s best player and highly deserving of following Roy and Sakic as Conn Smythe winners for the Avalanche.
“It’s just been building over time,” Makar said. “I’ve been here only three years and a couple of tough exits in the playoffs. It was just all leading up to this. If you had told me this was going to be three years in, I would have said: ‘I don’t know.’ They’ve done such a great job of putting together a team. It’s just amazing.”
Makar’s playoff legend is growing.
His 60 career points in 55 postseason games give him a per-game average of 1.09 — second-highest all-time among defensemen behind only Hall of Famer Bobby Orr (1.24). Makar is the third-fastest blueliner in NHL history to reach the 60-point mark, trailing only Orr and Leetch, who reached it in 46 and 49 games, respectively.
“It’s impressive what he’s been able to do in such a short time in his career,” Avs forward Andrew Cogliano, 35, said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a focus in a younger player like him in my whole career, how he approaches the game, how he prepares. With him, it’s the habits that make him special. The first day I got here, just how he passes the puck, how he moves on the ice, everything he does is with such purpose that he is just unbelievable.
“It really, really makes him such a dominant player. There is just an energy to him and a focus that makes players, and obviously guys like him, some of the best to ever play the game. He is one of those players that is going to just continue to get better and scarier as he goes on.”
Makar finished with 90 points in the balloting. Avs center Nathan MacKinnon, who collected 15-of-18 second-place votes, was second with 47 points. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was third with four points.
“You grow up and you see that thing (the Stanley Cup) as a kid,” Makar said in an ABC postgame interview. “You have pictures of it on your wall. All I think about is everybody that got me here. My family is in the stands, so it’s amazing, wherever they are. It’s surreal.”