Why Presidents’ Trophy winners are a bad bet in the playoffs

Why Do So Few Presidents’ Trophy Winners Win The Stanley Cup?

The Presidents’ Trophy curse. If you follow the NHL, you’ve heard of it. If you bet on the NHL, you’d best heed it.

This is not just some urban legend. In the NHL, first during the regular season rarely translates to foremost in the playoffs. 

In the 41 years that the NHL’s No. 1 regular-season performing team has been awarded the Presidents’ Trophy, just eight of those teams have added a Stanley Cup to their list of accomplishments during the same season.

Only one of the last 10 Presidents’ Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. That was the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks. Amazingly, seven of 41 Presidents’ Trophy winners have exited the playoffs during the first round of postseason play.

Just once – the 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche and the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings – have Presidents’ Trophy winners won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons.

This is a trait that is unique to the NHL – Presidents Trophy winners to win the Cup. In the NBA Finals, five of the last seven champions were No. 1 seeds. Six of the past seven Finals have included a one seed.

The last three World Series have all included the club that posted the best regular-season record, and two of those teams carried on to capture the Fall Classic.

One is rarely the loneliest number in the Super Bowl. Super Bowl 53, which saw the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3, marked the first time in six years that there wasn’t a one seed in the game. Both teams were seeded No. 2 in their respective conferences. 

The previous five Super Bowls were all saw victory secured by a one seed.

Lighting Strike Out

The 2018-19 NHL season was an epic one for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay tied the NHL record of 62 wins established by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. Nikita Kucherov was the league’s scoring leader and MVP.

The Lightning, who’d lost in the 2015 final and reached the final four in three of the four previous springs, finally looked poised to strike silver – as in the silver mug that is Lord Stanley’s Cup. But it was not to be. 

Instead, Tampa Bay’s season turned out to be an epic fail.

Facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of the playoffs, the Lightning didn’t just lose, they were swept aside in the minimum four games. 

A record 62 regular-season wins. A total of zero playoff wins.

Of the eight Presidents’ Trophy winners to exit following the opening round of the postseason, the Lightning were the first to fall victim to a sweep. 

Oddly enough, the 1995-96 Wings also failed to win the Cup. They lost in six games to the Avalanche during the Western Conference final. 

As well, the 1929-30 Boston Bruins, who went 38-5-1 to post the best winning percentage in NHL history (.875), also did not win the Cup. Boston was swept by the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in a best-of-three final series.

The Presidents’ Trophy Curse

The NHL is often referred to as a league of two separate seasons, and that could explain why it so often produces two separate champions within the same season. Recognize this fact of life as you analyze Stanley Cup betting options at a sportsbook like DraftKings.

The 82-game regular season is a completely different animal than the playoffs, which require a team to survive four best-of-seven series. 

During the regular season, there are variables in play affecting wagering that do not impact the playoffs. Road trips. Three games in four nights. A rested team facing off against a tired team. Teams playing out their usual time zone. These scenarios will often impact one team more than the other in a game setting.

In the postseason, teams are facing the same opponent on the same night, usually every other night for a two-week span if a seven-game series goes the distance. Whatever variable impacts one team, it has the exact same effect on the other team. 

The Hot Goaltender

Let’s look at some of the factors that can lead to a Presidents’ Trophy winner being upset.

Know your goalies

When it comes time to put some money down on the Stanley Cup at a sportsbook such as FanDuel, there might be no better piece of advice to adhere to than this one.

If there’s one aspect of hockey that’s different from all the other sports, it’s that one performer on the ice is capable of stealing the game all by himself. That would be the goaltender.

Goaltending is the X-factor of hockey

A team can’t control how its own goalie is going to play any more than they can control how well the guy they are shooting at is going to be stopping the puck. 

A tremendous team can be neutralized by sensational goaltending

The trail of the Stanley Cup is littered with glittering goaltending performances but perhaps none would prove as remarkable as Ken Dryden’s effort for the Montreal Canadiens during the 1971 playoffs. 

To open the playoffs, the Habs would face the Bruins, the NHL’s top regular-season team. Boston established 38 NHL records during the 1970-71 season. This included Phil Esposito’s NHL-leading 76 goals, 76 assists and 152 points. Esposito and teammates Bobby Orr, John Bucyk and Ken Hodge finished 1-2-3-4 in NHL scoring, the only players in the league to top 100 points. Six Bruins finished among the NHL’s top 10 scorers.

But Boston was stunned in seven games in the opening round by the Canadiens and the sensational goaltending of rookie Dryden, who came into the postseason with six NHL games on his resume. 

Matchups

As you prepare to place a wager at 888Sport on the Stanley Cup playoffs, dig a little deeper into how the two teams in a series stack up against each other, and you just might get rewarded with a value bet. 

Since the ice-hockey teams are playing the same opponent in a playoff series, they can scheme their gameplan to best solve the other club. A team might be better than an opponent in general against the league as a whole but in a head-to-head showdown, they can actually prove to be at a disadvantage. 

A good example of this came during the second round of the 2018 playoffs, when the Winnipeg Jets faced the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators. In many areas this series was a saw off, from goaltending to big-scoring wingers and deep, productive defensive corps. But the Jets held a clear edge at center.

Winnipeg’s 1-2 punch of March Scheifele and Paul Stastny outplayed the top two Nashville centers, Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris.

With Scheifele (7-4-11) and Stastny (5-5-10) leading the way, the Jets won the series in seven games. 

Coaching

You might not think about coaching when placing a Stanley Cup wager at Bet America, but you should.

Some coaches thrive at the challenge of game planning for the on-ice chess match that is a playoff series. Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, who coached a record nine Stanley Cup winners, was a master of putting the opposition on the defensive and forcing them to react to his maneuvering. 

Ken Hitchcock, himself a legendary Cup-winning coach, allowed that matching wits with Bowman over the three hours of a playoff series was the most exhausting competition he’d ever experienced.

In a playoff series, a good coach reacts to the evolving scenarios taking place in what can be an emotional roller coaster ride for the players. Other coaches – Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance – stubbornly stick to their original plan and don’t adjust well. 

Babcock’s teams have lost six successive playoff series and he’s gone out in the first round five years in a row. In 2005-06, Babcock’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings fell in six games to the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers.

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