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Analyzing NHL Presidents' Trophy Winners And Playoff Performance

Does being the best team in the NHL's regular season translate to playoff success? A breakdown of the last 20 Presidents' Trophy winners and how their regular season dominance did or didn't carry over into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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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 second round: THREE (15 percent) 1992 New York Rangers, 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2006 Detroit Red Wings

Lost in third round: FIVE (25 percent) 1996 Detroit Red Wings, 1997 Colorado Avalanche, 1998 Dallas Stars, 2003 Ottawa Senators, 2007 Buffalo Sabres

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.

Year Team Points Lead >8 Lost In
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.