Presidents' Trophy problems: Only one Stanley Cup champion among NHL's past 10 regular-season winners

The Tampa Bay Lightning romped to the 2018-19 Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team. You'd think that would be a good sign for their Stanley Cup hopes – but it isn't.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning ran away with the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's 2018-19 regular-season champions. You'd think that would be a good omen, perhaps even a guarantee that the Bolts are poised to cruise to a Stanley Cup title ­– but you'd be wrong.

In the past 10 years, only one Presidents' Trophy winner has parlayed their regular-season success into a Stanley Cup ­– the Chicago Blackhawks in lockout-shortened 2012-13. In that 48-game campaign, the Hawks earned at least a point in an NHL-record 24 games from the start of the season (21-0-3), and then won the last game of the season as well. But those Blackhawks are the exception that proves the rule when it comes regular-season prowess and capturing the Cup. (In fact, the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks are the only other Presidents' Trophy winner in the past decade to even make it to the Cup final – and it didn't end well.)

In the two tables below, the past 10 Cup champions are listed as well as the year-by-year Presidents' Trophy winners. Table 1 shows the Cup champion's regular-season finish along with their NHL rank in goals per game (GPG) and goals-against average (GAA). Table 2 shows the Cup champion's regular-season finish along with their NHL rank on the power play (PP) and penalty kill (PK).

TABLE 1

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Notable:

  • The 2013 Blackhawks ­– who are, as mentioned, the only dual Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup winners in the past decade – are also the most recent Cup champ to finish in the top five in both offense (second) and defense (first) in the regular season. The 2011 Bruins (fifth in offense, second in defense) and 2010 Blackhawks (third in offense, fifth in defense) also qualify, while the 2016 Penguins (third in offense, sixth in defense) just missed out.
  • Only the 2018 Capitals (ninth in offense, 16th in defense) and 2009 Penguins (sixth in offense, 17th in defense) failed to finish in the top five in either offense or defense.
  • You don't have to read between the lines to figure out that Los Angeles won both of its Cups on the basis of defense. The 2012 Kings ranked 29th in a 30-team league in offense in the regular season, while the 2014 Kings were only slightly better at 26th. Defensively, though, those big, heavy Kings teams were Darryl Sutter solid – the 2012 Kings ranked second overall in GAA in the regular season, and the 2014 Kings were first.
  • If you're wondering, Tampa Bay is the NHL's highest-scoring team and sits seventh overall in defense as the regular season enters its final days.

TABLE 2

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Notable:

  • Regular-season power-play success is not an accurate predictor when it comes to the Stanley Cup. The 2017 Penguins (third in PP efficiency) are the only Cup champ in the past 10 years to rank in the top five on the power play during the regular season. In fact, the 2018 Capitals (seventh in PP efficiency) are the only other Cup champ in the past 10 years to even rank in the top 10. For eight straight years from 2009 through 2016, the Cup champion ranked in the bottom half of the league in regular-season PP success, with the 2014 Kings representing the low-water mark (27th in PP efficiency).
  • As it turns out, regular-season penalty-killing success is not a particularly accurate Stanley Cup predictor, either. Three Cup champs finished in the top five in PK efficiency in the past 10 years, but never higher than third (2013 Blackhawks). Still, you have to be at least decent on the penalty kill. Eight of the past 10 Cup champs have finished in the top half of the league in regular-season PK efficiency, and the two that didn't – the 2011 Bruins (16th) and 2017 Penguins (19th) – were close.
  • If there's a trend here, it's that the power play is taking on a greater significance as the NHL speeds up and becomes more skilled, while the penalty kill is becoming slightly less vital. The 2017 Penguins ranked third on the PP in the regular season, the 2018 Capitals ranked seventh, while their PKs were middle-of-the-pack (Penguins 19th, Capitals 16th). From 2009 to 2016, not a single Cup champion ranked in the top half of the league on the PP in the regular season, while six of eight Cup champs ranked in the top 10 on the PK (and the 2014 Kings were close at 11th).
  • As for the Lightning? Well, they've been lethal on special teams this season, ranking first on the PP and third on the PK. Who's kidding who? They're the team to beat.

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