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A deep dive into the myth that is the “Presidents’ Trophy Curse”

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
20 days ago
There’s more than one hotly-contested presidential contest going on in 2024.
Yes, after bidin’ their time for almost a decade, the Vancouver Canucks are once again looking to trump all opponents in the NHL regular season and walk away with the 2024 Presidents’ Trophy. As of this writing, the Canucks hold down fourth place in the league with 98 points, but that won’t last for long, because the standings are as tight up top as they have ever been and seem to be changing by the minute.
There are a full seven teams within three points or fewer of the top spot in Vancouver, New York, Dallas, Boston, Florida, Colorado, and Carolina. There’s never been a closer race for the regular season championship than the one going on right now in 2023/24, and the Canucks are absolutely in the thick of it.
Even if some of their fans would rather they not be.
Not that these fans are cheering against success, necessarily. We’re not back into the era of “Team Tank” or anything like that. It’s just that there’s a vocal subsection of the fanbase that would much prefer the Canucks finish in, say, second place leaguewide than claim first place and the Presidents’ Trophy outright.
Why?
Because the Presidents’ Trophy is cursed, obviously.
Now, this belief is not limited to Vancouver, nor did it originate here, but Vancouverites are intimately familiar with the curse all the same. The Canucks have won the Presidents’ Trophy on two prior and consecutive occasions, for the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons.
The first instance saw the Canucks go on to make it all the way to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, a campaign that still stands as perhaps the greatest in franchise history despite an ignominious conclusion.
The second instance saw the Canucks bow out in the first round to the Los Angeles Kings the very next year, on route to missing the postseason in eight of the next 11 seasons.
Clearly, the scars of 2011 are still fresh. But it’s worth mentioning that, even in this limited two-season sample size, the Canucks have a series record of 3-2 in seasons in which they’ve won the Presidents’ Trophy. That’s still a winning record, and suffice it to say that the Canucks don’t have a winning postseason record under many other circumstances.
Can what’s happened after the Canucks have won Presidents’ Trophies really be called all that more “cursed” than the standard, day-to-day existence of this hard-luck franchise?
For contrast, we decided to run the numbers against another, slightly-lesser measure of success: leading one’s division during a regular season. The Canucks have led the Smythe/Pacific/Northwesst/Pacific (again) Division exactly ten times. Their record in series throughout those ten seasons and subsequent postseasons is at 8-9, which is a losing record.
Yes, you read that right. The Canucks have a better record in the playoffs after having won the Presidents’ Trophy than they do when they’ve just won their division. And yet, no one ever talks about the Smythe-Pacific-Northwest Curse, probably because it’s a little unwieldy as a title.
The same holds true when you compare the PT seasons with those that featured other leaguewide finishes. To wit, the Canucks have never finished second or third in the league standings.
They’ve finished fourth once, with a playoff series record of 1-1 that season.
They’ve finished fifth once, with a series record of 1-1.
They’ve finished seventh four times, with a cumulative series record of 3-4.
They’ve finished eighth thrice, with a cumulative series record of 1-3.
Add all those together, and you get a record of 6-9 when the Canucks finish anywhere from second-to-eighth overall in the league. Compare that with their 3-2 record with the Presidents’ Trophy, and suddenly the “curse” begins to look a little more specious.
What about outside of the Vancouver franchise?
There’s little sign of a curse to be found elsewhere, either.
The Presidents’ Trophy came into existence as of the 1985/86 season, and has been handed out 37 times since then.
The curse got a lot of buzz last year, when the Boston Bruins enjoyed the most successful regular season run in NHL history, won the Presidents’ Trophy by a longshot, and then lost in the first round of the playoffs.
But teams have indeed won both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season. In fact, it’s happened eight times, with the most recent being the 2012/13 Chicago Blackhawks (one season after the Canucks’ two-peat.)
A record of 8-29 isn’t a stellar won, but it does mean that the team who wins the Presidents’ Trophy does win the Stanley Cup approximately 22% of the time.
Most teams would gladly head into the postseason with a 22% chance at taking home hockey’s ultimate glory.
Presidential teams have made it to the Finals, but lost, an additional three times, meaning regular season champions have a darn-near one-in-three chance of making it through three rounds of playoff hockey. Is that really a curse?
For context, the Presidents’ Trophy winner has lost in the first round of the playoffs eight times in total. So one could say that a team that wins the Presidents’ Trophy has an equal chance of flaming out in the first round as they do winning the Stanley Cup.
That’s not a curse, those are great odds that anyone would gladly sign up for.
And just so we’re giving the full picture here, know that if there isn’t a curse now, there definitely wasn’t one before the Presidents’ Trophy was minted. Prior to ‘85/’86, the top team in the regular season won the Stanley Cup in 30 of 59 NHL seasons, a greater than 50% success rate.
All that the advent of the Presidents’ Trophy has done is drop that rate from about 50% down to 22%, which coincides with the arrival of countless new franchises into the league, thus making the Cup much more difficult to win overall.
To put a final nail in the curse-coffin, we’ve saved our best stat-pull for last. This information was readily available, but we checked the records of all those teams who finished as the runner-up to the Presidents’ Trophy (as in, second place in the NHL regular season standings) and found just four instances of that team going on to win the Stanley Cup: Colorado in 1996, Tampa Bay in 2004, Pittsburgh in 2017, and Colorado again in 2022.
That means that the Presidents’ Trophy winner has won 8/37 times, and their runners-up have won just 4/37 times.
So, win the Presidents’ Trophy, and some folks might say you’re cursed. But the numbers say that you’ve effectively doubled your chances of winning over the team immediately trailing you in the standings.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying this: the Presidents’ Trophy Curse is not real, it never was, and it was certainly never a reason to cheer against the Vancouver Canucks achieving as much success as possible in the 2023/24 regular season or any other campaign.
As for that overall, general, franchise-specific curse that has haunted the Canucks since their very inception?
Well, that’s another story entirely.
Join Sekeres & Price and the CanucksArmy crew on Saturday April 20th at the Hollywood Theatre in Kitsilano for a special tribute to their late friend, Jason Botchford, presented by Fountain Tire. “Bro, Do Your Playoffs” is a media event celebrating the life and legacy of Jason that will feature shared memories, special guests, an exclusive performance from The Matinée and the celebration of Vancouver’s triumphant return to the playoffs. This event is in support of the BC Mental Health Foundation. Get your tickets now at https://www.showpass.com/hollywood-brodoyourplayoffs/

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