Ah, the Presidents' Trophy. It's a blessing and a curse; of course you want to secure home ice for every round of the playoffs, but the expectations then become even greater. Lose and you're a choker, especially if you're one of those infamous first-round flameouts.
We all know that winning the Stanley Cup is a rarity for Presidents' Trophy winners, but how rare is it? For the last 20 winners -- essentially the the beginning of modern expansion -- here's how it went:
Lost in first round: FIVE (25 percent) -- 1991 Chicago Blackhawks, 2000 St. Louis Blues, 2004 Detroit Red wings, 2009 San Jose Sharks, 2010 Washington Capitals
Lost in Stanley Cup Final: TWO (10 percent) 1990 Boston Bruins, 1995 Detroit Red Wings
Won Stanley Cup: FIVE (25 percent) 1994 New York Rangers, 1999 Dallas Stars, 2001 Colorado Avalanche, 2002 Detroit Red Wings, 2008 Detroit Red Wings
That's a pretty even distribution. Obviously, there's no guarantee for success but it's better to think that you have the chance to wind up anywhere rather than the percentage of advancing for eighth seeds.
The perspective that piques my curiosity, though, is the idea that there are two types of Presidents' Trophy winners: the ones that are essentially in a dogfight to the very end and the ones that are far and away the best regular season team in the league. There's always the chatter that the teams that have a lead in the standings (like this year's Vancouver Canucks) wind up coasting a bit mentally and find themselves a little unprepared when facing a first-round opponent that's been in playoff mode for weeks, if not months.
So let's see how these two groups fare with the dividing point being eight points in the standings. Yes, I know the post-lockout charity point winds up being skewing the metric, but let's stick with this for simplicity's sake.
|1989–90||Boston Bruins||101||2||No||Cup Final|
|1990–91||Chicago Blackhawks||106||6||No||First Round|
|1991–92||New York Rangers||105||7||No||Second Round|
|1992–93||Pittsburgh Penguins||119||10||Yes||Second Round|
|1993–94||New York Rangers||112||11||Yes||Won Stanley Cup|
|1994–95||Detroit Red Wings||70||5||No||Cup Final|
|1995–96||Detroit Red Wings||131||27||Yes||Third Round|
|1996–97||Colorado Avalanche||107||3||No||Third Round|
|1997–98||Dallas Stars||109||2||No||Third Round|
|1998–99||Dallas Stars||114||9||Yes||Won Stanley Cup|
|1999–2000||St. Louis Blues||114||8||Yes||First Round|
|2000–01||Colorado Avalanche||118||7||No||Won Stanley Cup|
|2001–02||Detroit Red Wings||116||15||Yes||Won Stanley Cup|
|2002–03||Ottawa Senators||113||2||No||Third Round|
|2003–04||Detroit Red Wings||109||3||No||Second Round|
|2005–06||Detroit Red Wings||124||11||Yes||First Round|
|2006–07||Buffalo Sabres||113||0 (tiebreak)||No||Third Round|
|2007–08||Detroit Red Wings||115||11||Yes||Won Stanley Cup|
|2008–09||San Jose Sharks||117||1||No||First Round|
|2009–10||Washington Capitals||121||8||Yes||First Round|
Going by this data, 11 of the teams were in a battle while nine of the teams ran away with it (including Detroit's incredible 131-point season). Of the 11 teams in the first group, four (36 percent) bowed out in the first two rounds and one won the Stanley Cup (9 percent). From the second group, four (44 percent) bowed out in the first two rounds but four (44 percent) won the Stanley Cup.
Does all of this number crunching really mean anything? With everything being equal, I think it dispels the myth that winning the Presidents' Trophy is anything bad. Of course teams will be upset, but it follows the sensible logic of the fact that really good regular season teams come with plenty of Cup potential, and you'd rather be a top seed than not. I think the more interesting bit is the part about runaway teams: of the Presidents' Trophy winners that dominated the competition in the last 20 years, four of the nine won Stanley Cups.
Every team and every season is different, and I'm sure the coasting issue comes into play from team to to team but it sure sounds like the odds are in favor of this year's Vancouver Canucks.