Presidents' Trophy Winners Have Struggled to Achieve Stanley Cup Glory
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been a good team over long stretches of time and have won a Stanley Cup in 2004, but they have never won a Presidents' Trophy for having the most points in the NHL. Until now, that is - and they have certainly made up for lost time. They haven't just won the Trophy this year - they have made a mockery of the race. As I write this on Sunday afternoon (yes, my life is that exciting), Tampa has a remarkable 19-point lead over Boston and Calgary with just four games left to play. And it's not that the Bruins and Flames are having bad seasons - they are doing very well. Tampa Bay is just running away with the race. Dominating.
With four games left - and eight possible points on the board - Tampa already has more points, 122, than any team since the 2005-06 Red Wings had 124. They can't catch the 1995-96 Wings with 131 points, but they will almost certainly have the second most points since this award was created in 1985, and if they were to win out their 130 points would be the third most ever only the Wings and the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. That Montreal team had 60 wins and Tampa Bay has 59, so the Lightning measure up well there. The Red Wings in 1996 set the all-time record with 62 wins, so Tampa can break that barrier, too. We could go on and on, but the point is clear - Tampa is having a historically excellent season.
So, Tampa Bay is doing great, and they had the Presidents' Trophy wrapped up weeks ago. So what? That's not the banner that anyone will be excited about having in the rafters. It's all about the real trophy - the one that hasn't been in Florida for 15 years. We can only speculate about what Tampa Bay will do once the playoffs start and things get really serious. But we can look back on what has happened in the past to see what happened to Presidents' Trophy winners, and what that might teach us:
The last five years have not been kind to Presidents' Trophy winners. None of those teams - Boston, the Rangers, Washington twice and Nashville - have made the Stanley Cup finals, and the Rangers were the only team that has made it out of the second round. While the teams have not had the success their regular season suggested, there wasn't a lot of cause for embarrassment, either. Nashville last year lost in seven games to a very good Winnipeg team. In 2017 Washington lost in seven games to eventual Cup winners Pittsburgh. The year before, Washington again lost to Pittsburgh, in six games this time, and Pittsburgh again won it all. The Rangers lost the Eastern Conference final in seven games to Tampa Bay and were worn down by a seven-game slugfest against Washington the round prior. The worst of this stretch of Trophy winners' futility was in 2014 when Boston blew a 3-2 series lead to lose to a Montreal team that was 16 points behind them in the standings.
There have been 32 official Presidents' Trophy winners since the Award began. A quarter of the winners - eight - have gone on to win the Stanley Cup as well. Six of those eight came in the first 17 years, so the pace of success has definitely slowed down. Just three more teams have lost in the Stanley Cup finals, with two coming in the first 10 years. In the last 15 years, only Detroit and Chicago have won both trophies, and Chicago's came in the lockout-shortened season, so it only sort of counts - having the best record in the regular season took less effort that year. Vancouver also lost in the finals in the same stretch - and fans tried to burn their city to the ground in response. Four of the 15 winners have lost in the first round. The average number of series played by Presidents' Trophy winners over the last 15 year is 2.3.
Tampa Bay is celebrating their first Presidents' Trophy win. That is not particularly good news. There have been 16 previous first-time winners since the Trophy began. None have won the Stanley Cup. Three - Boston, Detroit and Vancouver - have lost the Cup finals in their first year. Four of those teams have lost in the first round. Winning the Presidents' Trophy adds another layer of pressure to a team. It remains to be seen if the Lightning are better able to handle the pressure than every team that came before them.
Tampa is the fifth team to have at least 120 points as a Presidents' Trophy winner. The first was the 1995-96 Red Wings team with 131 points. They lost in six games in the Western final to a Colorado team that swept the Cup final. A decade later, Detroit again won the Trophy with 124 points. This time they lost in six games to Edmonton, who went on to shock the league and make it all the way to the Finals as an eighth seed. In 2009-10, Washington had 121 points and lost in seven games to Montreal in the first round. And in 2015-16 Washington won it again with 120 points and lost to Pittsburgh in the second round. So, Tampa will have to become the first 120+ point Presidents' Trophy winner to win the Cup - or follow in the same footsteps as those before them.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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