Think the regular season means squat? Consider this. No team seeded lower than 5th in their conference has won the Cup. Ever.
Convinced the President’s Trophy is worthless? Seven of the 24 winners — 30% — have hoisted the championship banner.
Eight teams from each conference have made the postseason since 1980, when the NHL made some adjustments to accommodate the four new WHA teams. Let’s see how high each Cup winner since then had ranked in that year’s regular season.
|Year||Team||Final Position in Conference|
|(* = President’s Trophy winner)|
|1980||New York Islanders||2|
|1981||New York Islanders||1*|
|1982||New York Islanders||1*|
|1983||New York Islanders||4|
|1994||New York Rangers||1*|
|1995||New Jersey Devils||5|
|1997||Detroit Red Wings||3|
|1998||Detroit Red Wings||2|
|2000||New Jersey Devils||4|
|2002||Detroit Red Wings||1*|
|2003||New Jersey Devils||2|
|2004||Tampa Bay Lightning||1|
|2005||Cancelled due to labour dispute|
|2008||Detroit Red Wings||1*|
As you scan through this table, you’ll notice that fully 22 out of the 30 winners placed either first or second in their conference. The greatest underdogs were the 1993 Canadiens and the 1995 Devils, and they were in fifth place.
A true dark horse like Montreal last year might play spoiler for a couple rounds, or even make it to the final, but they’ve never won it all. It’s not impossible (history isn’t destiny) it’s just extremely unlikely.
If the playoffs simply involved Gary Bettman flipping a coin for each round (don’t laugh, NHL head office has considered this), each playoff team would have a 6.25% chance of hoisting Lord Stanley.
But the playoffs are not a fresh slate. Here’s a few reasons higher-ranked teams have better odds:
- Home ice advantage. The President’s Trophy is guaranteed home ice in all 4 rounds. First and second in the conference get home ice in the first three and two rounds respectively. Playing at home is huge, especially in Game 7.
- Weaker opposition. Upsets happen ever year (ask Washington), but over seven games a top-tier team will usually beat one that just squeaked in. Would you rather Minnesota or Detroit in the first round?
- Rest. Down the stretch, teams with a secure berth can afford to rest key players. Vancouver won’t rush Edler back, but Calgary will have to give Iginla high minutes every night over the next few months.
- Let’s not forget the obvious: they’re just better teams. Most of the factors that helped teams win in the regular season (scoring, defense, goaltending, etc) also help in the regular season. The playoffs are more intense, but it’s the same sport.
Without a Cup, the President’s Trophy is a poor consolation prize. It means little on its own, and guarantees nothing — but it really helps. Thirty percent odds, you say? I’ll take it.