Each season the NHL awards the President’s Trophy to the team that finishes with the most points. On paper, this would seem to mean the best team gets the honor. But that hasn’t always translated to postseason success. Last night, the Washington Capitals became the 2nd straight President’s Trophy winner to lose in the first round of the playoffs. For the Capitals, it was an epic flop, as they became the first top seed to squander a 3-1 series lead to an 8 seed following their 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadians. In fact, only 3 of the past 10 President’s Trophy winners have taken home the Cup, and 7 of the 24 overall winners. That’s a pretty poor performance rate for the season’s best teams. In fact, more teams have lost in the first round the past 10 years than have won the Cup. Here’s a breakdown of the past 10 President’s Trophy winners
2009-10 – Washington Capitals – Lost Conference Quarterfinals
The Capitals ran away with the President’s Trophy, ending up with 121 points, 8 clear of Western Conference top seed San Jose and 18 clear of the 2nd place team in their conference. But the Capitals collapsed in the playoffs. The league’s most explosive offense team scored only 1 goal in each of the last three games to Montreal, all losses. They were 1 for 33 on the Power Play.
2008-09 San Jose Sharks – Lost Conference Quarterfinals
The Sharks edged out Boston for the best record in the league, 117 points to 116. But neither team fared well in the playoffs. Boston was ousted in the 2nd round, while the Sharks, who’ve been a remarkable regular season team for most of the decade, continued their playoff woes after being bounced by the Anaheim Ducks in 6 games.
2007-08 Detroit Red Wings – Won Stanley Cup
Meet a President’s Trophy winner who lived up to the hype. The Red Wings topped San Jose by 7 points to claim the trophy, then proceeded to take the Stanley Cup by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games, winning the decisive game in Pittsburgh. The Red Wings posted a 16-6 playoff record and never faced an elimination game.
2006-07 Buffalo Sabres – Lost Conference Finals
The Sabres didn’t flame out, but they didn’t make it to the promised land either. After taking the President’s Trophy on a tiebreaker (head to head) with Detroit, the Sabres beat the Islanders and Rangers before falling in 5 games to division rival Ottawa, losing the decisive game at home.
2005-06 Detroit Red Wings – Lost Conference Quarterfinals
The Red Wings were another major flameout. Their 124 points were the 2nd most ever for a President’s Trophy winner. But they were overmatched by the 8th seeded Edmonton Oilers, who finished the regular season with 95 points yet eliminated the Wings in 6 games.
2003-04 Detroit Red Wings – Lost Conference Semifinals
The Wings are no stranger to flopping as a President’s Trophy winner. The Red Wings finished with 109 points and took the league’s top seed. After eliminating the Nashville Predators in the first round, they were bounced by the 6th seeded Calgary Flames in the 2nd round.
2002-03 Ottawa Senators – Lost Conference Finals
The Senators topped the regular season with 113 points. After eliminating the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, the Senators fell to the New Jersey Devils, the eventual champion, losing the deciding Game 7 at home. While not a huge flameout, a team should be able to defend home ice in a clinching game.
2001-02 Detroit Red Wings – Won Stanley Cup
The Wings won the President’s Trophy and became the 2nd straight winner to take home the Cup. After ending the regular season with 116 points, 15 clear of the next best team, the Wings ran through the playoffs, only really being challenged by the Colorado Avalanche in the West Finals, which went 7 games. They beat the Carolina Hurricanes in 5 games to complete a season they dominated.
2000-01 Colorado Avalanche – Won Stanley Cup
The Avs took home the President’s Trophy by finishing with 118 regular season points. During the playoffs, they faced two 7 game series, so they didn’t dominate. But they got the job done, winning both Game 7s at home, including against the Devils in the Cup Finals.
2000-01 St Louis Blues – Lost Conference Quarterfinals
The Blues, lead by league MVP Chris Pronger, ran away with the President’s Trophy with 113 points. A stellar team all year, the Blues busted out in the playoffs, losing a deciding Game 7 to the 8th seeded Sharks in the first round.
The evidence above suggests that winning the President’s Trophy doesn’t equate to winning in the postseason. When less than a third of President’s Trophy winners fail to bring home the top prize, maybe it is a bit of a curse. I guess we’ll have to wait until next season to see if the league’s top regular season team can break the jinx.