The Mythical President's Trophy Curse

With NHL playoffs coming up next week, fans and players alike are ready to channel their nervous excitement in weird and interesting ways.


I’m not talking something boring like a standard-issue playoff beard. Or watching the game from your “lucky chair”.


I’m imagining something along the lines of former Ottawa Senator Bruce Gardiner, who used to dunk his stick in the toilet before each game to “show it who was boss”. Or Patrick Roy, who liked to keep on friendly terms with his goalposts by kibitzing with them during games – you know, to make sure they helped a brother out when he needed it most.


And why all this fuss?


Well, because the world’s a scary place. Plus there are all sorts of curses flying around out there. You don’t have to dig up King Tut or fly over the Bermuda Triangle either. You just have to watch a few games and care about the outcome.


Then, before you know it, you’re another victim of the curse of the Bambino, the Cleveland sports curse (as though living in Cleveland wasn’t punishment enough), or my personal favourite: the Madden cover curse.


The hockey playoffs fall nowhere near Halloween. But no matter, we hockey fans still have our President’s Trophy curse, where the team that wins the President’s Trophy for having the best regular season record suddenly implodes during the playoffs.


And it must be true. Because why else would commentators be yammering on about it every April? Moreover, 3 of the past 5 winners of this dubious title have exited the playoffs in the first round.


If the preceding sounds reasonable to you, take a deep breath, wave a dead chicken over your head four times, spit three times, and read on.


There is no President’s Trophy curse. In fact, if you’re betting on one team to win the Stanley Cup, picking the best team during an 82-game regular season is a really good call.


How do we know? Because we bothered to look.


The President’s Trophy has been awarded since the 1985-86 season. Since then, 8 of 27 winners have gone on to hoist the Cup.


If you go back a bit further, to 1979-80, the record gets even better. In the 33 seasons since then, the best regular season record managed to produce 11 Stanley Cup winners.


Of the 22 teams that didn’t win it all, there was an even split between a respectable playoff showing and a brutal one, with 11 teams exiting in the first two rounds and the remaining 11 losing in the Conference Finals or Stanley Cup Final.


We looked a little closer to see if the clubs that choked had anything in common.


As it turns out, of the 11 President’s Trophy winners to lose in the first two rounds, 7 came from divisions that were among the league’s weaker half (i.e. 3rd or 4th in average points when there were 4 divisions and 4th or worse when there were 6).


Of the 6 times President’s Trophy winners made first round exits, 5 of those have come since the 1993-94 season, when the league changed from a divisional to conference playoff format. Only once during that time (the 1999-2000 St. Louis Blues) was the team in a division that was above average.


This shouldn’t be surprising. If a team dominates a weak division, its shortcomings should become apparent once it faces stiffer competition from the rest of the conference. With the NHL’s return to a divisional playoff format with a wild card thrown in, it will be interesting to see if we return to an era where President’s Trophy winners are better insulated from early defeat.


To get a sense of just how dominant first-place teams have been historically, check out the chart below, which shows the regular season ranking of the past 33 Stanley Cup winners. Nearly every team drinking champagne from Lord Stanley’s mug in June started its run with a strong regular season.


For Leaf fans who were dreaming of that last playoff berth and a Cinderella story only a few days ago, maybe there’s a silver lining here: that 16th spot usually doesn’t amount to much.

Regular Season Rank # of Cup Winners
1 11
2-4 10
5-8 10
9-12 1
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings 1
14-16 0



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