Does The Presidents’ Trophy Matter?

Jonathan Willis
April 23 2012 10:44AM

For two years in a row, the Vancouver Canucks have been the best regular season team in the NHL. Also for two seasons in a row, the Vancouver Canucks have not been the best post-season team in the NHL.

Given the latter, does the former matter?

On one level, no it doesn’t. Kids don’t grow up dreaming of one day running over one of the league’s worst teams in the 82nd game of the season to clinch first overall in the regular season. Nobody gets their names memorialized for all eternity on hockey’s chalice by virtue of picking up a few more shootout rather than regulation losses than a team in another conference. People remember playoff champions, not regular season winners.

On the other hand, when it comes to building a professional hockey team, or assessing the wreckage of a first round exit, it’s important to have a balanced view. That balanced view requires balancing the successes of an 82-game season with the failings of a five-game playoff series.

The Canucks are not a perfect team. The NHL salary cap, as well as human nature, prohibit perfect teams. Even if they didn’t, the first round loss to Los Angeles would have made it painfully clear that there are weaknesses in Vancouver. The loss of Daniel Sedin early in the series was difficult to overcome, as the Kesler line went quiet and the depth wingers failed to rise to the challenge. Specific problems on the back end – including gaffes by cornerstone defensemen like Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis – are worth discussing. The inability of Vancouver’s bottom two lines to make a positive impact on the series will surely be visited time and again in the off-season.

Along with the legitimate complaints will come less legitimate ones. Roberto Luongo has at least his share of detractors, and Cory Schneider had a better series. The criticism of the former started almost as soon as the series did. The familiar suggestion that the playoffs are no place for the Sedin twins will also undoubtedly show itself, despite the fact that Henrik was the team’s best skater and that Daniel came back from injury and found a way to make an instant impact.

But, once again, all that fallout needs to be considered in balance with the big picture. Those back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies make it clear that the Canucks are an excellent hockey club. While the tendency will be to focus on weakness, they can’t lose sight of their strengths either. They’ll almost certainly move a goaltender. Likely, they’ll also attempt to add a little more scoring depth – it was telling that in seven combined games the Sedin twins picked up seven points, while in 53 combined games the rest of the forwards picked up just nine.

There will be a shakeup. But in the end, the Canucks should enter next season with much the same core, the core that has made them the NHL’s best regular season team the last two years and the second-best playoff team just one year ago. The core of that team is still in the 26-to-31 age range. There’s still time and there’s a strong group to build from.

There’s no excuse for complacency, but there’s no excuse for overreaction either. A balanced approach to off-season changes is the order of the day, and the planning likely starts now for Mike Gillis.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 James and Gary
April 23 2012, 10:56AM
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It is a shame that a Hooligan can make such a difference to a team. No banter at this time.

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#2 Copperblueandwhite
April 23 2012, 11:25AM
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Taking all bets: The Oilers will win the Cup before the Canucks....Canucks are dead in the water now..they couldn't catch the bouquet...bridesmaids for ever.

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#3 Douglas
April 23 2012, 11:53AM
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Cody Hodgson would've been a hell of a lot more useful than Zach Kassian in the post-season. If I'm not very much mistaken, was'nt Kassian a healthy scrath for game 5?

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#5 D
April 23 2012, 02:05PM
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JW,

From a pure business standpoint, having a team that year-in and year-out can compete for the President's trophy is a good strategy. At the end of the day, there will only be one Stanley Cup winner each season. Granted, there will be only one President's trophy winner as well, but in any given year, a well managed team can win the President's trophy. That is not always the case with the Stanley Cup (fewer games to win the Stanley Cup, more random chances based on factors outside a team's control).

If a team is one of the four or five elite that consistently compete for the President's trophy, filling a stadium should pose little difficulty. Carolina and Anaheim are two perfect examples of how winning a one-off Stanley Cup without being a consistent elite team does not translate into box office success.

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#6 jimirude
April 23 2012, 04:18PM
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I'm really not trying to troll here but my problem with the president's trophy fundamentally is that it seems to skew the perception of the team that wins it as being the best of the best without examining the fact that certain ELITE teams (which Vancouver is) are rewarded with this trophy simply because they play in weaker devisions.

To me Vancouver SHOULD win the president's trophy by virtue of the strength of their own schedule. The Canucks got to play CGY, COL, EDM, MIN 6 times each this year. None of those teams was a playoff calibre team while Vancouver is clearly a top 5 club. By contrast look at the Central and Atlantic Divisions. In both cases the two division winners were in the hunt for the president's trophy right down to game #82 and the quality of competition in both divisions is VASTLY superior.

This is why I see the president's trophy as a nice accomplishment that really doesn't mean much at all. It's a footnote to an NHL season. Only one trophy matters at the end of the day. I said the same thing about Detroit when they were playing the likes of NSH, CHI, STL, and CBJ 8x/year a few years ago.

Vancouver is/was/will be an Elite team for a number of years to come. They will also probably compete for the president's trophy next year. That playoff positioning is an asset going into the playoffs but I don't expect many guys on the Canucks saying 'Well, at least we won the president's trophy.'

anyways, that's my take...

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#7 canuckistanian
April 28 2012, 02:03PM
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@jimirude:

based on the Canuck’s winning percentage against the NW & the Central this year, if the Canucks played in the Central (inarguably the best division in the league this past year), they would have had a 110 point season instead of a 111 point season playing in the NW 9the 3rd worst division after the SE & NW).

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