The 2019 NHL playoffs have been nothing but surprising to say the least. Upsets, tremendous comebacks, rivalries, busted brackets, nothing like the playoffs usually are. This season we saw the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that won the Presidents Trophy, a trophy awarded to the team with the best regular season record since 1985, get ousted in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets in just four games. A major surprise to many who had predicted the Lightning to be favorites to win the cup after dominating the competition all year long. For a team that was proclaimed by some as the “best NHL team ever put together” how is it possible that they would be swept in the first round of the playoffs? Well if you look at the history of the NHL playoffs, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
In the NBA, for example, the #1 overall seed rarely loses in the first round. In fact, the NBA team with the best regular season record has won the league championship fifteen times in the thirty-four seasons since 1985. During that time period, only seven teams have failed to move past the second round of the playoffs. This season the Milwaukee Bucks earned the leagues best record with sixty wins, and are currently waiting to see who they will play in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In contrast, since the President’s Trophy was awarded at the end of the 1985-86 NHL season, only eight times have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Sixteen teams that won the trophy failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs.
This season the Tampa Bay Lightning had the second largest point margin between them and the second place team in the history of the league, and tied the 95-96 Colorado Avalanche for the most wins in a regular season. After an amazing season, the Lightning became the first team in league history to win the President’s Trophy and then get swept in the first round. Is the curse of the President’s Trophy real? It sure seems like it.
Curse or not, the NHL playoffs prove to be very unpredictable year after year, and every year any team in the playoffs has a good chance a reaching the finals no matter their seed.