President’s Trophy Winner: 30% Chance of Cup. Sixth Seed or Lower: Pretty Much Zero.

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.

YearTeamFinal Position in Conference
(* = President’s Trophy winner)
1980New York Islanders2
1981New York Islanders1*
1982New York Islanders1*
1983New York Islanders4
1984Edmonton Oilers1
1985Edmonton Oilers1
1986Montreal Canadiens3
1987Edmonton Oilers1*
1988Edmonton Oilers2
1989Calgary Flames1*
1990Edmonton Oilers2
1991Pittsburgh Penguins2
1992Pittsburgh Penguins4
1993Montreal Canadiens5
1994New York Rangers1*
1995New Jersey Devils5
1996Colorado Avalanche2
1997Detroit Red Wings3
1998Detroit Red Wings2
1999Dallas Stars1*
2000New Jersey Devils4
2001Colorado Avalanche1*
2002Detroit Red Wings1*
2003New Jersey Devils2
2004Tampa Bay Lightning1
2005Cancelled due to labour dispute
2006Carolina Hurricanes2
2007Anaheim Ducks2
2008Detroit Red Wings1*
2009Pittsburgh Penguins4
2010Chicago Blackhawks2

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.

11 Responses

  1. mikev says:

    so, 70% odds of winning the cup without the president’s trophy. i like those odds even better

  2. Brother-K says:

    I don’t think you understand statistics or math.

  3. CC says:

    The observed probabilities are (approximately) as follows:

    30% if President’s trophy winner
    10% if top team in the other conference
    17% if second in conference (two teams fit this description)
    3% if third in conference (two teams)
    7% if fourth in conference (two teams)
    3% if fifth in conference (two teams)
    0% if any other team
    (30%+10%+2*17%+2*3%+2*7%+2*3%) = 100%

    Now, this is a small sample-size, so there is variability that causes strangeness in the data (for instance, you shouldn’t really believe that finishing 2nd in the non-President’s Trophy conference is better than finishing first in that conference!); however, given the above probabilities, where would you want your team to finish to have the best chance of winning the cup?

  4. phenylalanine says:

    Oh man, this made me LOL for real. Never change Internet, never change.

  5. Reed Botwright says:

    Just because your team doesn’t win the President’s Trophy, doesn’t mean you suddenly have a greater chance of winning the Cup. In fact, if you look at individual percentages based on seeding you would find that the President’s Trophy winner has by far the greatest chance to win. I’ll take 30% for #1 overall versus 8% for finishing 5th, or 0% for anything lower because no one has won with lower than 5th based on these numbers.

  6. Bart Byl says:

    What? The average playoff team has a 1 in 16 chance on winning the Cup. Therefore, if you miss the playoffs, you have a 15 in 16 chance of winning the Cup. Think about it.

  7. buster says:

    On the other hand, since the 85-86 season, there’s a 21% chance that the president’s trophy winner will be eliminated in the first round. That being said, I believe the Canucks will get passed the first round. Although stats can be interesting they don’t mean much. People can look at the data and turn it into whatever they want.

  8. chiroken says:

    That 70% odd of winning without the president’s trophy has to be split between the other 15 playoff teams….leaves you with 4 1/2% chance. You still good with it? lol

  9. Bart Byl says:

    No, no, each of the 15 teams has a 70% chance. There’s 11.25 Cups awarded each year, remember?

  1. February 7, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Phil, Bart Byl. Bart Byl said: President’s Trophy winner: 30% chance of Cup. Sixth seed or lower: pretty much zero. […]

  2. April 1, 2011

    […] Trophy sets the team up for a lengthy playoff run. A couple of months ago, Bart posted that the President’s Trophy winner has won the Stanley Cup 30% of the time. (Obviously, the odds decrease for the lower seeds.) The fact is, the Canucks will have home ice […]

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