Is The Presidents Trophy Curse Real?


NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly (right) presents Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos (left) with the Presidents Trophy. Photo Credit: Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times

With the Boston Bruins having a historically dominant season in the NHL and almost assuredly winning the Presidents Trophy as the best regular season team, it would be reasonable to assume that Boston is looking ahead to the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, and how they could continue their dominance in the postseason. 

But, with such an earth shattering regular season, comes more pressure to perform in the playoffs. Sheer dominance in the regular season leaves fans expecting that same success. 

If only it were so easy. Along with that added pressure and the winning of the Presidents Trophy comes something else as well…the prospect of the “curse.”

But just how real is this Presidents Trophy curse? Let’s find out.

An Intro To The Presidents Trophy

First introduced and awarded in 1986, the Presidents Trophy is awarded to the team that finishes the regular season with the most points in the standings. It is an honor and high accomplishment, and teams typically raise a banner in their arena after winning the trophy. 

Some teams are far more familiar with the hardware than others. A total of 18 different teams have won the trophy since its inception, with the Detroit Red Wings at the top of the list with 6 trophies. 

Teams, or more commonly fans of a team, are sometimes wary of winning the Presidents Trophy, as it has a stigma of bad luck or even a “curse” to those who win it, given that several notable Presidents Trophy winners went on to have disappointing playoff exits and upsets. 

The Case For The Curse

Only 8 times in 36 seasons has the Presidents Trophy winner won the Stanley Cup. The most recent Presidents Trophy winner to also be crowned Stanley Cup Champions was a decade ago when Chicago Blackhawks went 36-7-5 during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The last team to do it in a non-lockout shortened season were the 2008 Detroit Red Wings. 

There are numerous examples in the NHL even in recent times of Presidents Trophy winners struggling immensely or collapsing in the postseason.  

Lightning and Blue Jackets players in the handshake line after Columbus swept Tampa Bay in round one. Photo Credit:

The most glaring example of the curse was during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Presidents Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning had a historic 2018-19 season. They won 62 games that year, which tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a regular season in NHL history. 

Star winger Nikita Kucherov set a salary cap era league record with 128 points. The Lightning had three 40+ goal scorers. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky had the best save percentage of his career. 

Everything was going right for Tampa Bay… until the playoffs started. In one of the most stunning collapses in NHL history, the Lightning lost in 4 games to the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

The Lightning became the first Presidents Trophy winner to be swept in round one. Even more embarrassing for the Lightning, it was the first ever playoff series win in Blue Jackets franchise history. It was so cool that Fox Sports Ohio, the regional broadcaster of the Blue Jackets at the time, re-aired the series a year later during the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

But while maybe they are the most notable example, they are far from alone.

During the 2017-18 season, the Nashville Predators won the Presidents Trophy after making a Stanley Cup Finals appearance the season prior. But in the second round, they were upset by the Winnipeg Jets, who were in the playoffs for only their third time in franchise history (first was in 2006-07 as the Atlanta Thrashers and second was in 2014-15) and had never won a playoff game prior to that season. 

The Washington Capitals were also big time victims of the Presidents Trophy as well. The Capitals won the Presidents Trophy back to back in 2016 and 2017, but could not make it past the second round in either season. Washington would lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins both times, as the Penguins were en route to back to back Stanley Cup victories.

And numerous other teams have stories of Presidents Trophy woes.

The Case Against The Curse

The regular season and the playoffs in the NHL are two wildly different seasons. 

The style of hockey is different. The desperation is different. The compete level is different. So it makes sense that the best team in any given regular season may not be the best team in any given Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks were the last Presidents Trophy winner to win the Stanley Cup. Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

Teams that dominate that much in a regular season, like the way Tampa did in 2019 and Boston is doing now, rarely if ever face adversity. This becomes a huge problem when one of these teams runs into a hot goaltender, or a team that prioritizes defense, or a team that simply knows how to beat you. 

Instead of being able to write that game off as one bad game and moving on, you’re stuck with the same opponent for an entire series.

For some of these Presidents Trophy winners, all of the sudden they are faced with a team they cannot best, and they often can’t work through that adversity and figure out their problem until it’s too late. 

This is not necessarily a result of being the Presidents Trophy winner however. High seeded teams often get upset in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs had a TON of upsets, just as one of many examples). 

To take it back to 2019, the Lightning were far from the only good team that was upset. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs saw all division winners eliminated in round one, and teams like the Carolina Hurricanes (who hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009) make a conference finals appearance, and the St. Louis Blues (dead last in the NHL on January 2, 2019) won the Stanley Cup.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are always bonkers, that is why we as fans love them so much. Every series has a sense of unpredictability. Upsets happen in the NHL all the time, especially in the league where home advantage matters less than other sports.

Yes, there are notable examples of Presidents Trophy winners and the theory of a curse, but to put things in perspective, even with the unpredictability of hockey’s postseason, more number one ranked teams have won the Stanley Cup than any other seed, by a large margian.

An Intriguing New Theory

In doing research and looking at the trajectory Presidents Trophy winners had in their years after it, I have come to a very intriguing new hypothesis: The Presidents Trophy does indeed act as a curse the year you win it, but could provide you with luck in your next few years. 

Yes, teams that win the Presidents Trophy are obviously very good, so it is understandable that any of those teams could maintain a high level of play in following seasons and ride that all the way to a Stanley Cup. But that is based fully in logic and therefore less fun, so let us play this theory out.

Two of the teams I specifically mentioned earlier (Washington and Tampa Bay) were able to bounce back after their early playoff exits. 

After years of first and second round losses and back to back Presidents Trophy winning seasons that resulted in disappointment, the Capitals would finally win their first ever Stanley Cup in 2018 (the year after the back to back Presidents Trophy wins) including finally beating Pittsburgh in the second round on the way. 

After Tampa’s 2019 collapse, they would go on to win back to back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, becoming only the second team in the salary cap era to be back to back champions (after Pittsburgh). Tampa also made the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.

The St. Louis Blues with the Presidents Trophy in 2001. Photo Credit: Getty Images

But the Capitals and Lightning aren’t the only examples. 

Several other teams in the 90s also won the Stanley Cup shortly after a Presidents Trophy win. 

So does that really mean that while the Presidents Trophy may curse you the year you win it, it could redeem itself with future championships?

From 1986 to 2019, 13 total teams that won a Presidents Trophy also won the Stanley Cup within the next three seasons. Of those 13, 12 won it within two years of the trophy, and 6 had won it the following season. 

Put this figure in comparison to the only 8 times a team won the Stanley Cup with a Presidents Trophy, and you might have something here.

In that same 1986-2019 time period, 5 of those teams would win multiple Stanley Cups within the next three years after a Presidents Trophy win. 

The Colorado Avalanche, for the record, won a Stanley Cup in 2022, a year after their Presidents Trophy season, but for this little study I omitted any team past 2019 because, at the time of this publishing, we cannot go three years out to determine any of those team’s future success.

Admittedly, using played seasons instead of pure years skews the data a little bit, seeing as how Detroit, winners of a Presidents Trophy in 2004, won the Stanley Cup four years later in 2008, but due to the lockout canceled 2004-05 season, Detroit’s 2007-08 win was technically their third season after the trophy win despite it being four years later.

Even if you choose to exclude that particular one, more teams won a Stanley Cup within a few years after a Presidents Trophy than teams who won a Stanley Cup and a Presidents Trophy in the same year. The rate of teams winning a Stanley Cup in a season AFTER winning a Stanley Cup (sitting at almost 50%) is much higher than teams who won the trophy and the cup in the same season.