The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy Thursday night, clinching the best record in the NHL with a 2-1 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at TD Garden. They also set a new franchise record with their 58th win of the season.
It’s an impressive accomplishment, and coach Jim Montgomery and his team acknowledged as much after the game. It’s the first of three team trophies they can win, with -- they hope -- the Prince of Wales Trophy (for winning the Eastern Conference) and Stanley Cup to follow.
Bruins clinch Presidents' Trophy with fight-filled win over Columbus
“Obviously to have won the Presidents’ Trophy, like I said to the players, be proud of what we achieved,” Montgomery said. “I guess it exemplifies how good of a team we’ve been. That’s a feather in everyone’s cap, throughout the organization.”
“Of course you’re proud,” captain Patrice Bergeron added. “It’s a lot of games, a lot of hard work. I’m proud of the way we’ve done it, by sticking to our process and rolling as a team and learning and really playing for each other. That being said, it’s nice, but obviously you have your eyes set on something bigger. We know we have a lot of work in front of us.”
If you look at recent history, or if you believe in curses, you might be worried about what the Presidents’ Trophy means for the Bruins’ chances of winning that something bigger. The so-called “Presidents’ Trophy curse” has been vicious in recent years.
It has been 10 years since a Presidents’ Trophy winner won the Stanley Cup. In 2012-13, the Chicago Blackhawks won it in a lockout-shortened season and went on to beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Since then, no Presidents’ Trophy winner has even made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Only one, the 2014-15 New York Rangers, even got as far as the conference finals. The last seven Presidents’ Trophy winners have not made it past the second round, and one of them -- the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning -- got swept in the first round.
The few years right before that Blackhawks Cup were not kind to Presidents’ Trophy winners either. Three of the four winners from 2009 to 2012 lost in the first round. The other -- the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks -- lost Game 7 of the Cup Final on home ice to Boston.
So, is the curse real? Is there anything to be learned from these recent Presidents’ Trophy failures? Montgomery said the Bruins’ staff will take a look to see if they can identify any trends, but he also made it clear that he does not believe in the curse.
“Yeah, for sure we’re gonna look at it. But the Presidents’ Cup teams have also won the most percentage of Stanley Cups. So I’m gonna look at it that way,” he said. “I’d rather be Presidents’ Cup than second, third, fourth or fifth, because they haven’t won the Cup as much.”
Montgomery is right. The “Presidents’ Trophy curse” is a recent phenomenon. Historically, the team with the best record has been more likely to win the Stanley Cup than the team that finishes second, third, fourth, fifth, etc.
The Presidents’ Trophy was first awarded in 1986. In the first 22 years that it was handed out, through 2008, the winner went on to win the Cup seven times. In a nine-year stretch from 1999 to 2008, the Presidents’ Trophy winner won the Cup four times.
Prior to the invention of the Presidents’ Trophy, having the best record in the regular season had an even stronger correlation to winning the Cup. From 1967-68, when the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams, to 1984-85, the team with the best regular-season record won the Stanley Cup 11 times in 18 years.
If you expand to look at all one-seeds (so, incorporating both the Presidents’ Trophy winner and the one-seed in the other conference), more Cup winners have come from the one-seed than any other seed.
From 1994 through 2013, the period of time that the NHL used a 1-through-8 format for playoff seeding, one-seeds won seven of 19 Stanley Cups (36.8%). Two-seeds won five (26.3%), three-seeds won three (15.8%), four-seeds won two (10.5%), and a five-seed and eight-seed each won one.
The league’s move back to a divisional playoff format in 2014 has brought more chaos when it comes to which seeds win the Cup. From 2014 to 2021, no team with the best record in its conference went on to win the Cup. Only one Cup winner during that time, the 2017-18 Washington Capitals, had the best record in its division. That changed last year, though, when the Colorado Avalanche won the Cup after finishing with the best record in the Western Conference.
It's also worth noting that two of those years (2020 and 2021) can pretty much be thrown out for the purposes of this exercise because the playoff format was thrown into a blender due to COVID. The 2020 postseason was played in a bubble and featured a round-robin tournament to determine seeding, and 2021 featured no conferences at all, with teams instead grouped into four distinct geographic divisions.
It is fair to say that there is more parity in the NHL today than there was in the 1970s and 1980s. That is obviously a major factor in Presidents’ Trophy winners and top seeds not being as dominant in the postseason as they once were.
But it’s also fair to say that you’d still rather have home ice throughout the playoffs than not, especially when you’re 31-4-3 at home like this year’s Bruins are. Think about how important home ice was in the Bruins’ first-round loss to Carolina last year, when the home team won all seven games. There could be a rematch in the conference finals this year, and now the Bruins would be the ones with that extra home game.
“I think it’s really important,” Montgomery said of home-ice advantage. “You look at our home record, you look at how much we love playing in front of the rabid Bruins fans, teams aren’t gonna look forward to coming in here.”
Curses are meant to be broken. Another Boston team reminded us of that back in 2004.