The Presidents' Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL team that finishes the regular season with the most points. Contrary to what you might think, the correlation between winning the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup is weak.
Starting with the 1985-86 season when the award was created, only seven teams have won this trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season. In fact, three of the last four Presidents' Trophy winners have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Since the Detroit Red Wings captured the 2001-02 Stanley Cup and Presidents' Trophy, just one team has won both awards in the same season, and only two clubs have reached the Cup Final.
|2002-03 ||Ottawa Senators||Lost in conference finals |
|2003-04||Detroit Red Wings ||Lost in conference semifinals |
|2005-06||Detroit Red Wings ||Lost in first round |
|2006-07||Buffalo Sabres ||Lost in conference finals |
|2007-08||Detroit Red Wings ||Won Stanley Cup |
|2008-09||San Jose Sharks||Lost in first round |
|2009-10||Washington Capitals||Lost in first round |
|2010-11||Vancouver Canucks||Lost in Stanley Cup Final |
|2011-12||Vancouver Canucks||Lost in first round|
Why have so many teams failed to make deep playoff runs after dominating the league in the regular season?
The obvious reason is that the intensity and pressure felt in regular-season games are far different that what are experienced during the playoffs. The postseason is an entirely different animal.
The pressure that winning the Presidents' Trophy puts on players heading into the playoffs is enormous. These teams are expected to win the Stanley Cup or at least make the Cup Final, and a lot of players crumble under these expectations.
Unlike a lot of other sports, having the top seed in an NHL conference does not translate into an automatic appearance in the second round.
We have seen far more No. 1 seeds be upset in the NHL playoffs than in the NBA. Only three No. 1 seeds in the history of the NBA have been eliminated in the first round. Since 1994, only one Stanley Cup Final has been a matchup of No. 1 seeds (Colorado vs. New Jersey in 2001).
In the NHL, the eighth seed is often a team that played great hockey over the final few weeks of the regular season to earn a playoff spot. This team carries a lot of momentum and confidence entering the postseason, which gives it a good chance of upsetting a top contender that didn't play a lot of meaningful games in late March and April. The team has nothing to lose in the first round because all of the pressure is on the No. 1 seed.
The amount of parity in today's game also contributes to the weak correlation between winning the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season.
The gap in talent between the top NHL teams and the ones that barely make the playoffs isn't massive anymore, and the salary cap has played a role in this change.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, which is also the cap era, there have been seven different Stanley Cup champions in seven seasons, and only two teams have made back-to-back appearances in the Cup Final.
This year's Presidents' Trophy winners were the Chicago Blackhawks, who last won the award during the 1990-91 season. That Blackhawks team was upset by the Minnesota North Stars in the Division Final and then lost in the Cup Final the next season.
The 2013 edition of the Blackhawks opened the playoffs with a Game 1 overtime victory on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Will the Blackhawks join the '09 Sharks, '10 Capitals and '12 Canucks as recent Presidents' Trophy winners to be knocked out of the playoffs in the first round?
The chances of that happening are slim, and there are a couple of reasons for that. For starters, those three teams played in weak divisions and were not tested much during the regular season. Chicago earned the league's top record despite playing in a division that had four of the top nine teams in the West standings.
These three former Presidents' Trophy winners also had rosters with most, if not all, of their best players lacking Stanley Cup-winning experience. This Blackhawks squad is full of champions and star players with something to prove after two consecutive first-round playoff exits.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are so great because any team, regardless of its seed, has a chance to lift the best trophy in sports. This is why there's a weak correlation between winning the Presidents' Trophy and the Cup. Regular-season success means nothing once the puck is dropped in the playoffs.