Success in the regular season and winning the Presidents’ Trophy means nothing in the playoffs once the puck is dropped. Unlike other sports leagues, having the top seed in a conference does not mean an automatic appearance in the second round, therefore it creates a lot of pressure.
What is the Presidents’ Trophy?
This trophy is awarded to the team with the highest number of points earned during the regular season. The winning team also receives $350,000, split among the team personnel and players. If two teams are tied for the most points, the tiebreaker will go to the team with the most regulation wins. The second tiebreaker would be the most wins in regulation and overtime. Then the third would be the most wins of any kind.
The trophy was first introduced to the League at the start of the 1985-86 season by the Board of Governors. Prior to the trophy’s existence, the winning team would receive a banner reading “NHL League Champions.”
A total of 18 teams have won the Presidents’ Trophy. The Detroit Red Wings have won it 6 times, the most of any team. Four teams: Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals have won it 3 times. Several teams have won it in consecutive years: Calgary, Dallas, Detroit, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Washington.
Preceding the Presidents’ Trophy’s existence, from 1937 to 1967, the trophy given to the team with the highest number of points was the Prince of Wales Trophy. But with the expansion in the 1967-68 season and the creation of the West Division, the Wales Trophy was changed to award the team that finishes first in the East Division during the regular season. The Wales Trophy is now given to the Eastern Conference Playoff Champion.
During that time, no trophy was awarded to the team that finished with the best record in the entire league and there wasn’t a trophy that was awarded based on results in the regular season from 1981-82 through 1984-85.
But if we were to go way back and factor in all NHL seasons prior to the creation of the President’s Trophy, the Montreal Canadiens would lead the league by finishing first 21 times. Detroit was a close second with 18 first-overall finishes.
The winner of the Trophy is guaranteed home-ice advantage in all four rounds of the playoffs, given that the team makes it that far. But contrary to what you might think, success in the playoffs is not guaranteed.
Out of the 36 times the trophy has been awarded, only 8 of the winners went on the win the Stanley Cup in the same season. This leads many to believe the trophy is cursed. The most recent team to win both the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season were the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks. In addition, 7 winners were eliminated in the first round. And 3 were able to make it to the finals but weren’t able to prevail.
*Update: The Boston Bruins, who won the trophy for the 2022-23 season, were eliminated in the first round making that 8 teams who went out in the first round.
There is also the almost league-wide superstition of never touching a trophy unless it’s the Stanley Cup. Primarily this superstition goes with the conference champion trophies, but many players follow that through with this trophy as well.
Similar trophies in other leagues
The NBA is the only other league that has a trophy similar to the Presidents’ Trophy. The Maurice Podoloff Trophy is given to the team with the best overall record in the regular season. This trophy is named after former NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff, who served from 1946 to 1963. Prior to 2021, this trophy was given to the most valuable player of the NBA in the regular season until its change in 2022. The MVP trophy is now named after Michael Jordan.