The Curse Of The NHL's President's Trophy

Winning the regular season championship in any professional sport should increase that team's odds of winning the playoffs. Does winning the President's Trophy in the National Hockey League guarantee playoff success?

The President’s Trophy is awarded each National Hockey League season to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season. One could make the assumption that that team’s success would carry on deep into the playoffs, considering they are assured the number one seeding throughout and start off playing against the eighth place team. Over the past nineteen National Hockey League seasons, this assumption has proven to not be a safe bet.

Five times over the past nineteen years, the President’s Trophy winner has bowed out in the first round at the hands of that eighth place team. Four of those occurrences have been over the past ten seasons.

In 1990-91, the Chicago Black Hawks led the NHL with 106 points, one more point than division rival, the St. Louis Blues. Perhaps it was this heated rivalry with St. Louis that tired out the Black Hawks or perhaps it was just that they ran up against a suddenly hot Minnesota North Stars team. They lost to Minnesota in six games. Minnesota, despite winning only 27 games in the regular season, went on to the Stanley Cup finals before losing out to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

It would happen next in 1999-00. The St. Louis Blues won the President’s Trophy with 113 points. Next in line were their division rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, with 108. St. Louis lost to the San Jose Sharks in seven games. San Jose was spent after the long series with the Blues and bowed out to Dallas in five games in the next series.

2005-06 saw the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings have one of the best seasons in NHL history. Their 124 points on 58 wins was eleven points better than the next team down the line, the Ottawa Senators. The Red Wings were upset by a feisty Edmonton Oilers team, four games to two. The Oilers went on to the Stanley Cup finals and forced the Carolina Hurricanes to seven games before finally bowing out.

And now, for the past two seasons, the President’s Trophy winner has lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Two years ago, it was the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks had 117 points in the regular season, one better than the Boston Bruins. The Bruins wouldn’t get much further, losing out in the second round. The Sharks were knocked out in six games by the Anaheim Ducks. Like the Bruins, the Ducks would also bow out in the second round.

This past season, the mighty Washington Capitals cruised through the regular season with 121 points. Second place went to the previous President’s Trophy winner, the San Jose Sharks, with 112 points. Washington was taken down by the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. Montreal went on to the Conference finals before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in five games.

Why does this happen so often? There are several possible factors. It’s exhausting work to keep winning at the pace needed to lead the league and fatigue can set it at just the wrong time. Injuries can take their toll after a gruelling season. Playoff hockey is simply different hockey. A hot goalie or hot scorer can spell doom.

Regardless of the reason, upsets in professional sports are always exciting. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the team on the losing end.



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Tom Samworth
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lucia anna
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