The Curse of the Presidents' Trophy: Fact or Fiction?

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The Curse of the Presidents' Trophy: Fact or Fiction?
Silvia Pecota/Getty Images

With San Jose's overtime loss to Colorado on Sunday, the Washington Capitals have clinched the Presidents' Trophy, awarded to the NHL team with the highest point total for the regular season. 

The Capitals are now at 114 points with four games to play .  If they win three of those remaining games, they will finish with at least 120 points – the third highest total in the past 30 seasons

As the Presidents' Trophy winner, Washington will enjoy home ice advantage for all four rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Or will they be done in by the “Presidents' Trophy Curse?” 

Over the past six seasons, only one Presidents' Trophy winner – Detroit in 2008 – has gone on to win the Stanley Cup.  During that same period, three regular season point leaders have been ousted in the first or second round.

Not a very convincing record of success. 

If one takes a longer view, however, leading the NHL in standing points for the regular season is actually a good predictor of success in the playoffs.  While it does not guarantee taking home the oldest professional sports award in North America, the odds for the Presidents' Trophy winner to make it to the final round and win the Stanley Cup are still pretty good.

Over the past 10 NHL seasons, the Presidents' Trophy winner has captured the Stanley Cup four times.  Over the 23 seasons that the Presidents' Trophy has been awarded there have been seven Cup winners and two losers in the final round. 

Both of these stats put the odds of the Presidents' Trophy winner making it to the Stanley Cup finals at around 40 percent.

If we look back a few years further to the 1982 Stanley Cup, when the current playoff system was adopted (four rounds of seven games each), the case is even stronger.  In the 27 seasons starting with 1981-82, of the teams that led the NHL in points during the regular season:

   •  12 have gone all the way to the Stanley Cup finals (45 percent).

   •  Three-quarters of those teams have won the cup (9 of 12)

   •  19 have made it to at least the Conference finals (70 percent)

   •  Only four have been eliminated in the first round (15 percent)

Perhaps most telling is the comparison is with the fate of all other teams that have made it into the NHL playoffs. 

Over the past 27 seasons, 405 other teams also started out in round one.  Only 42 of those teams (just over 10 percent) have made it to the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Only 18 (under 5 percent) have won the Cup.

Conclusion:  There is no Presidents' Trophy curse.  If history is any guide, the team that leads the NHL in regular season points is four to five times more likely than any other team in the playoffs to make it into the Stanley Cup finals, and seven to eight times more likely to win the Cup.

Of course, history does not guarantee the Capitals anything. Only their talent, hard work, good coaching, and a little luck will give them the chance to take the drink from Lord Stanley's cup.

Nevertheless, we can say with confidence that, as winners of the 2010 Presidents' Trophy, the Washington Capitals are well positioned to make a deep run into this years Stanley Cup playoffs.

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