The Presidents' Trophy is an Achievement Worth Celebrating
The Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal, but winning the Presidents' Trophy is also a well-earned achievement worth appreciating.
The New York Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy last night, locking them in as first overall in the NHL during the regular season. Aside from getting the trophy itself, they clinch home-ice advantage for the entirety of the playoffs. Those all seem like clear-cut wonderful things.
Except, for some, they aren't. Though plenty are happy with this achievement, there are detractors whose emotions range from indifference to actual, legitimate disappointment in the Rangers winning the Presidents' Trophy. Seriously.
One prevalent idea that makes the rounds is that the Presidents' Trophy is a "curse."
— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) April 8, 2015
#NYrangers lock up Presidents Trophy. Usually a curse, but I don't think there's a team that would be confident playing #NYR in the playoffs— Brendan Dunlop (@Brendan_Dunlop) April 8, 2015
Yeah we know, the Rangers won the presidents trophy (AKA the biggest curse in sports)— Zack (@Grande_Zackary) April 8, 2015
And so on. Look on Twitter, message boards, etc. and you'll see plenty of mentions of this "Presidents' Trophy Curse." Some from bitter fans of rival teams, and some from even well-established media members like Damien Cox. You see, the idea is that only eight of the 28 Presidents' Trophy winners since the award was established in 1986 have gone on to win the Stanley Cup; a success rate of 28.6 percent. And yes, it's true. The Presidents' Trophy winner is a lot less likely to win the Stanley Cup than all other playoff teams combined.
But that's a ridiculous comparison to make. There's no doubting that 15 teams are more likely to win than one no matter where they finish in the standings. Here are the Stanley Cup winners, since 1986, ranked by overall finish in the NHL.
Presidents' Trophy winners (first overall) have won the Stanley Cup more often than any other ranking in the NHL. By a pretty good margin. It's pretty evident that, historically, winning the Presidents' Trophy is the most likely path to the Stanley Cup. Or that Presidents' Trophy winners have a higher correlation to Stanley Cup wins than any other spot in the standings.
To claim otherwise would be like insisting that pocket aces in a poker game with a full table is a bad hand to have because it only wins 31 percent of the time. That it's "cursed." Obviously, that's not how it works. It's faulty math and faulty logic.
Thus, it's objectively false that winning the Presidents' Trophy is a BAD thing.
Some instead want to argue that they simply do not care about the Presidents' Trophy. There's only one trophy that matters, after all, and that's the one awarded in June.
If that's how you want to think, then that is your prerogative. It's a subjective choice and one you have the right to make. But it's a short-sighted one.
Soccer is fascinating for a number of reasons, and they way trophies and competitions are handled in that culture is very different. Teams compete in different competitions throughout the season. There's no "all-or-nothing" mentality, for the most part. Winning the Champions League is the ultimate goal, but Arsenal fans can still appreciate a solid finish in the English Premier League and an FA Cup title. Even the most trivial trophies, such as the Capital One Cup or Community Shield, are given some respect.
I don't expect North American sports - MLS the exception - to mirror that sports culture. The Stanley Cup is certainly the ultimate goal with nothing else coming close. One Stanley Cup win is far more memorable than multiple Presidents' trophies, and it's what defines careers of players, coaches, and GMs. As it should.
But here's the harsh reality of the NHL; there are 30 teams, and only one Stanley Cup winner every year. More often than not, your team is not going to be the lucky winner. Even a tremendously successful franchise like the Detroit Red Wings have "only" won the Stanley Cup four times in the last 17 years. And let's not get into the decades of failure that preceded that run.
The point being this; establishing the standard that "anything but the Stanley Cup is a failure" is setting oneself up for a lifetime of misery. It's a gross oversimplification of the reason sports are enjoyable. The 2005-2006 Rangers did not even come close to winning the Stanley Cup, while both the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 teams came close but didn't seal the deal. And yet, both hold great memories and represent nice milestones in the history of the New York Rangers' franchise; even if they didn't end with the ultimate prize.
So yes, winning the Stanley Cup is massively more important than the Presidents' Trophy. But that's neither here nor there at the present moment. The Rangers will soon begin the quest to win the Stanley Cup. Failure to do so will be disappointing and will force some changes in the offseason. That shouldn't mean there is no enjoyment to be found in the lesser things as well. The Rangers just completed an 80-game grind with numerous plot twists and obstacles along the way, and in the end edged out the rest of the NHL for the first time in over two decades. Be happy about it. Celebrate it. And, regardless of what happens in the playoffs, accept it as a nice token to commemorate what was an exciting and rewarding period in Rangers' history.