Is the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy curse real?

The President’s Cup isn’t the trophy NHL teams really want.
Image: Getty Images

The Florida Panthers breezed through the first round of the playoffs and then got bounced from the second round so fast we barely had time for the annual discourse about the Presidents’ Trophy and whether it’s a curse for a team’s Stanley Cup hopes.

For the record, it isn’t. First, there’s no shame in losing to the two-time defending Tampa Bay Lightning. While it’s true that no team has finished with the NHL’s top record and gone on to hoist the Cup since Chicago in 2013, there were five double dippers from 1999-2013, or once every three years or so. That was a hot run for the dominant regular-season teams.

The NHL introduced the Presidents’ Trophy in 1986, and eight teams have followed it up by winning the Cup. That’s a 22 percent hit rate. Now, let’s do some basic probability. Let’s say the first round is a gimme for the best team in the league (it isn’t, as the 2019 Lightning showed against the Blue Jackets). But let’s just say it is. Then, let’s say, against a good team in the second round – in the current playoff format, assuredly a division rival that is well equipped to challenge them – a two out of three chance. Give them another two out of three chance in the conference finals. Fair? OK, now the Stanley Cup Final is hard, really a 50-50 proposition in any given year when you consider the physical and emotional grind it takes to get through the first three rounds.

So… 1 (first round) times ⅔ (second round) times ⅔ (conference finals) times ½ (final) is… 4/18, which reduces down to 2/9, which is… 22.2 percent.

The exact number of Presidents’ Trophy winners go on to win the Stanley Cup as logically should. Until someone screws up the math next year.

Now, might that be the Panthers? Well, the last team to win back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies was the 2016-17 Capitals, and they got knocked out in the second round each time. Better to follow the path of the Lightning, who got swept by Columbus in 2019 and haven’t lost a playoff round since, and are now halfway to a third straight Cup.

Obviously, the Blue Jackets’ sweep of the top team in the league was unprecedented, but the only other times a Presidents’ Trophy winner got swept in any round were the 1995 Red Wings in the Final against the Devils and the 1988 Flames in the second round against the Oilers. It should soothe Florida to know that this kind of exit seems to have a track record of inspiration. Tampa Bay obviously is here in front of us now, while the Red Wings won the 1996 Presidents’ Trophy and 1997 and 1998 Cups, and the Flames, after their embarrassment in the ‘88 Battle of Alberta, won the Cup in 1989. The Panthers can hope that’s just another parallel with the Battle of Florida.

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