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The President’s Trophy Curse: Did the Hurricanes incidentally dodge a bullet?

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The Carolina Hurricanes were in control of winning the President’s Trophy just a week ago, but now find their odds dwindling. But was it for the best?

Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

Hockey is a sport that is entrenched in superstitions.

The most well known is the usual refusal to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy or the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after winning either conference, but the myriad of pre-game rituals from what the athletes eat, to how they prepare, how equipment is put on, etc. shows just how serious these athletes take these actions.

But beyond the players, even fans get wrapped up in their own superstitions and one that has certainly done the rounds is an apparent curse involving the President’s Trophy.

The curse implies that if a team wins the President’s Trophy, they simply won’t win the Stanley Cup. But is there really any merit to this “curse?”

First of all, after back to back losses, the odds of the Hurricanes winning their first ever President’s Trophy has essentially plummeted.

They have a single path forward which involves them beating Nashville Monday, Vegas losing its last two games to Colorado and San Jose and then Colorado losing at least one game to Los Angeles.

That is the only path for Carolina to win the President’s Trophy.

So regardless of if it will apply, let’s look to see if Carolina may luck out in dodging this curse if it exists and what the team’s odds look like compared to where other Cup winners were ranked after the conclusion of those regular seasons.

So matter at hand: the curse.

Honestly, it’s more like the reverse.

Since the trophy was introduced in 1985-86, there have been 34 winners and eight of those teams have won both the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup while 11 have at least been to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Stanley Cup is arguably the hardest trophy in sports to win. It takes a lot of skill, determination, heart and as much if not more luck, so over a 20% comparative success rate and a near 33% chance just to make the finals seems like a pretty good deal.

To be fair, the idea of a curse stems from the fact that seven teams have been eliminated in just the first round of the playoffs after winning the President’s Trophy and actually the most common outcome for the first place teams is a second-round exit, with over 50% of winners not even advancing to the respective Conference Finals.

This would seem to feed the sense that the President’s Trophy is cursed, right?

Well actually, the most common regular season standings for Stanley Cup winners was first overall among the entire league and by more than double any other one placement.

Stanley Cup Champions by Final Standings

Placement Frequency
Placement Frequency
First 8
Second 3
Third 4
Fourth 4
Fifth 3
Sixth 4
Seventh 3
Eighth 1
Ninth 1
Tenth 1
Eleventh 0
Twelfth 1
Thirteenth 0
Fourteenth 1
Fifthteenth 0
Sixteenth 0

If we take an average of how Stanley Cup champions finished the regular season since the President’s Trophy was introduced, we end up with an average of 4.56, so we can just say a placement between fourth and fifth overall.

So there’s two different numbers to look at. First place has been the most common placement for Cup winners, but more Cup winners have come from more varied positions.

So on one hand, you could look towards the statistical average to make a guess for who will win the cup or you could go with the most common occurrence. Or you could accept that hockey is a very random sport that thrives in the chaos it creates.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a President’s Trophy curse and even the data doesn’t really support the idea of one existing.

There is no real connection that can be drawn between the first round exits of the 2000 St. Louis Blues, 2010 Washington Capitals and 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning — who both had won their franchises first ever President’s Trophy — other than the luck of the draw.

If you want to believe in a sort of curse, you can look to the fact that no team has won their first ever President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season, so in that regard, maybe it’s a good thing that Carolina more than likely won’t win it this year.

But in actuality the President’s Trophy doesn’t make you a better or worse team heading into the playoffs.

“Well you are more likely to lose at some point than win the cup as the President’s Trophy winner historically.”

Yes, but no other standings has won the cup as often as first overall has. It’s not hard to believe that the best team in the regular season could also be the best team through the playoffs

We can accept the reality of potential coinciding factors like maybe a team started coasting because they were winning so much, or players developed bad habits and a scrappy team that was desperate just to make the playoffs is ready from the go, or maybe that lower ranked team just elevated their level of play because they knew they were playing the best.

Or maybe we just accept the fact that it’s ice hockey and that the whole flow of a game can be changed by a single call, hit, goal or save.

For the fans, winning the President’s Trophy is a special reward that they can look up in the rafters and reminisce about, but to the players and coaching staff, there won’t be much sleep lost if they don’t come away with it.

“I don’t know how much that trophy matters,” said Rod Brind’Amour a couple of weeks before the regular season ended. “It’s probably the most irrelevant trophy out there. You’re not playing for that. Now does it have some sort of impact? Maybe, I guess at some point. But that’s not what we’re trying to get. If it falls in our laps because we play well in the last five games, great. We want to get first in the division, that’s the thing that’s obviously most important and that’s what we’ll try to do.”

A President’s Trophy would have been nice to have, but the Canes are after a trophy with a bit more meaning.

Looking at past winners, the Canes are in that sweet spot with the odds to either be the top team or the fourth best team. If you still want to believe in some sort of curse, don’t worry. Carolina looks to be safe from them and are in a statistical sweet spot looking at past trends.

But for anybody who has been watching this team for the entire season, you already know that they are the real deal and deserve to be a favorite for winning it all.