The President's Trophy

March 16, 2019 | Peter Maher

The President's Trophy

Tampa Bay Lightning are walking away with their first ever President’s Trophy. Somewhat in jest, a media member suggested the Lightning be presented with the Stanley Cup now and not bother having the playoffs. Even if the oddsmakers list the Lightning as heavily favored to capture Lord Stanley, history advises they aren’t close to a shoe-in.

It was 1986 the first time the NHL presented the President’s Trophy to the team finishing #1 in overall regular-season standings. Edmonton Oilers were the first recipients and big favorites to capture a third straight Cup, but they were upset in the second round by the Flames, who finished 30 points behind them. In the 32 years, the President’s Trophy has been awarded only eight of its winners have made it a double by capturing the Cup the same season. One of the eight was the Flames in 1988-89.

In recent seasons, the best team over 82 regular-season games hasn’t won the 16 playoff encounters required to nab the big prize. The last team to do the double were the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013. The Hawks are the only team in the past 10 years to do so. Over the past 15 seasons, just two squads have done it: the 2013 Hawks and 2002 Detroit Red Wings.

The Lightning currently has 18 more points than the second-place team overall, San Jose Sharks. They’ve been so superior over this regular-season, how can they possibly not win it all? Again, recent history isn’t on Tampa Bay’s side.

In the modern era, or since the 2005-06 arrival of the loser point in games going to extra time, the two teams with the largest point difference over the second-place team in regular play didn’t emerge as playoff victor. In 2005-06 and 2016-17, the President’s Trophy winning teams were 11 points better than the 2nd place squads. The Red Wings in ’06 were ousted in first round by Edmonton. In 2017, the Capitals lost in the second round to Pittsburgh.

Want more? The overall largest winning President’s Trophy team was the Red Wings in 1995-96 when they were 27 points better than second place Colorado. In the playoffs, those Wings lost out in the Western Conference final to the Avalanche, which went on to win the Cup.

Last season Nashville won the regular-season pennant but were eliminated in the second round of playoffs by Winnipeg. Why is it that the superior team through six months so rarely is successful in the two-month post-season run? The simplest answer is the playoffs are a completely different game. The same teams clash game-after-game with the intensity, pressure and physical play revved up to a much higher level. As well, the superior team faced little adversity when they get some in the post-season they sometimes are prepared to handle it.

The only sure-thing the President’s Trophy winner has is being guaranteed home-ice advantage in all series they play.     There are plenty of intangibles. Often the top regular-season team extended too much and don’t have enough left for the grind. Or, injuries become a factor. As well, breaks can go the other way. An upstart team gets in a groove producing upsets.

This year, though, history may be on the side of the President’s Trophy winner. The last five Cups have all been won by a team not finishing in first place overall. That’s the longest the President’s Trophy winner has gone without having a Cup parade in the same season.

The only certainty is that everybody will remember who wins the Stanley Cup. The President’s Trophy victor is quickly forgotten.

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