Is there a playoff curse on the NHL's Presidents’ Trophy winners?

It didn’t come as a surprise to many NHL fans when the Washington Capitals were knocked out of the current playoffs in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. According to some, the Capitals were unfortunate enough to have been crowned the Presidents’ Trophy winners this year for having the best regular-season record in the league. There are fans out there who believe this trophy comes with a curse attached to it and the Capitals early exit was just par for the course. Looking back through the annual statistics and postseason results, these curse believers may have a bit of a point.

The Presidents’ Trophy was first handed out to the NHL’s top club in the 1985/86 campaign. It’s nice to win it, but the ultimate goal for everybody in the league is the Stanley Cup. The Presidents’ Trophy winners are always one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup once the postseason begins since they have home-ice advantage throughout, but so far they haven’t really been that successful. Of the 30 Presidents’ Trophy winners, just eight of them have gone on to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug at the end of the playoffs.

This means 22 of the Presidents’ Trophy winners haven’t been able to achieve their postseason goals. In fact, six of them have been eliminated from the playoffs in the very first round and another six were sent packing after the second round, including the Capitals this year. On three occasions, the Presidents’ Trophy winners failed to even make the playoffs the year after winning the award. But on the other side of the coin, the top point-getting team in the NHL reached the Stanley Cup Finals 45 per cent of the time between 1982 and 2009.

The eight teams that managed to top the league in the regular season and capture the Stanley Cup were the Edmonton Oilers (1986/87), the Calgary Flames (1988/89), the New York Rangers (1993/94), the Dallas Stars (1998/99), the Colorado Avalanche (2000/01), the Detroit Red Wings (2001/02 and 2007/08), and the Chicago Blackhawks (2012/13). These eight represent 26 percent of Presidents’ Trophy winners. Three of the winners went on to lose the Stanley Cup Finals, and these were the Boston Bruins (1989/90), the Detroit Red Wings (1994/95) and the Vancouver Canucks (2010/11).

Therefore, 11 of the 30 Presidents’ Trophy winners made it as far as the Stanley Cup Finals, which represents 37 per cent of them. Things have even been worse lately though as just four of the league’s top teams have won the Stanley Cup since 2000 and Chicago has been the only one to do it in the past eight seasons. For interest sake, let’s compare the top regular-season NHL clubs to the top teams in the MLB, the NBA, and the NFL.

The last National League baseball team to win the World Series after topping the MLB standings in the regular season was the New York Mets back in 1986. The past six top National League clubs haven’t even made it to the World Series. The last National League squad to finish with the best overall record in baseball and reach the World Series was the St. Louis Cardinals with a record of 105-57 and they lost the final in four straight games to the Boston Red Sox. Over in the American League, three of the past eight clubs that boasted MLB’s best record have won the World Series. The top two baseball teams in the American and National League have met each other just once in the Fall Classic since 2000. The Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in six games when this occurred in 2013.

Things are a bit better for the top NBA teams though as the Golden State Warriors could be the fourth consecutive top team to win the championship if they can pull it off this year. Golden State won the title last season after finishing with the best overall regular-season record as did the San Antonio Spurs in 2013/14 and the Miami Heat in 2012/2013. However overall, just six NBA teams have won the championship and the topped the league standings since the 1999/2000 campaign. When it comes to the NFL, the top NFC and NFL teams have met only three times in the Super bowl since 2000.

Being the top NHL club over a grueling 82-game season is something to be proud of, but being knocked out of the playoffs could be due to reasons other than a curse. Some teams simply run out of gas, suffer from injuries or run into a hot goaltender. In addition, the NHL schedule is unbalanced and the Presidents’ Trophy winner could have had the fortune of playing in a weaker division and/or conference. However, the possibility of a curse isn’t necessarily out of the question either.