History Has Not Been Kind To President's Trophy Winners. Are The Bruins Doomed to Repeat It?
The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs have finally started, ending the leagues over 4 month shutdown that started back on March 11th.
With the regular season being declared "over" the Boston Bruins were awarded the President's Trophy which goes to the leagues best team in the regular season standings. Most years this would mean they get the best seed in their conference and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. In the bizarre world that is 2020 it means you get a shiny trophy, a "p" added to the front of your name on the leagues standings page, and that's it.
With the irregular conditions the Bruins are clearly not a typical President's Trophy winning team entering the playoffs but it is still a good idea to compare them to their predecessors.
The President's Trophy has done little to guarantee success in the NHL's postseason and some would argue it's a curse.
Look no further than last years President's Trophy winner the Tampa Bay Lightning who tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for wins in a season with 62. Ironically the Lightning would go on to tie the record for least playoff wins in a postseason as they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, a team they hadn't lost too in their previous eight meetings.
The Lightning's situation last year is not an anomaly either. Since 2000, more President's Trophy winners have been eliminated in the first round (6) than have gone on to win the Stanley Cup (4).
History has been less kind more recently as only one President's Trophy winning team went on to capture the Stanley Cup in the 2010's, the Chicago Blackhawks in the lockout shortened 2013 season.
Why is it that the team that finishes with the leagues best record seems to be doomed to an early demise?
Perhaps it's the tough first round matchups these teams are given.
Using last years example, the Lightning played a Blue Jackets team that entered the playoffs having won 7 of their last 8 in order to fight off the Montreal Canadiens for the last seed. To the Blue Jackets, their playoffs started mid-march and perhaps it's a disadvantage for a team like Tampa Bay to play a white-hot force after cruising through much of the regular season.
The unique circumstances of this years playoffs means that everyone has practically had an entire offseason before entering the postseason, so it's unlikely that a bubble team that was rolling in March is gonna pick up right where they left off.
However, given that seeds 5 through 12 in each conference are going to be playing 5 game series in the qualifying round while seeds 1 through 4 will play a round robin to determine seeding for the rest of the playoffs there is the chance of a team catching wind behind their sails and entering that first round feeling confident.
There in lies the danger for the Bruins about taking these round robin games lightly, best to hit the ground running instead of laying off throttle and being stuck playing a team that's already had to scratch and claw their way to that first round, it could potentially mean an early exit.
Another issue the league's leading team commonly has is fatigue by the time they enter the postseason.
The league's typical full 82-game season is a grind and it's taxing to win a vast majority of your games in a sport where the harder working team wins on a usual night. By the time April-May roll around exhaustion sets in for a lot of teams that had been rolling all year and the added pressure doesn't curb that.
Now the Bruins will have a unique advantage in this area because they got a whole 4 month break to rest, something the aging core definitely can benefit from
But let's not forget that the Bruins have played a fairly large amount of hockey since the start of last season, having gone all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and then leading the league in points for a majority of this season.
It's not often teams make it to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals and in fact they usually see an early exit. The 2012 Bruins were eliminated in the first round after winning the Cup in 2011 and the 2014 Bruins lost in the second round after going to the Finals in 2013.
2018's Stanley Cup Finalists, the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights, were both eliminated in the first round last season.
In a lot of modern NHL dynasties there always seems to be at least one year in between where the grind of a full 82 game season got to them.
The Bruins are a veteran team with plenty of playoff experience that is no doubt up to the task of living up to their title of league's best team.
But the President's Trophy has never guaranteed anyone in the NHL success and the Bruins would be wise to not take their foot off the gas.