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Blittner’s Blue Line: The Curse Of The Presidents’ Trophy

Eight! That’s it. Just eight!

What’s eight you might ask? It’s the number of teams to win the Presidents’ Trophy AND The Stanley Cup in the same season. Eight out of 37. That’s approximately 22%. (21.6% if you want to be more precise). While those aren’t miniscule odds, they’re certainly not good. But, before we dive into the crux of this column, let’s meet our Elite Eight.

The ‘87 Oilers, ‘89 Flames, ‘94 Rangers, ‘99 Stars, ‘01 Avalanche, ‘02 Red Wings, ‘08 Red Wings and ‘13 Blackhawks are the only teams to accomplish this particular dandy double since the inception of the Presidents’ Trophy in 1986.

Why do we care about this? Well, with the regular-season winding down – every team has played at least 72 games as of Monday afternoon April 1st – the top SEVEN teams are separated by just FIVE points. Talk about a race that’s setting up to be a photo finish. 

The Rangers entered play on Monday night with a league-leading 104 points. They were followed by the Stars (103), Hurricanes (101), Bruins (101), Canucks (100), Avalanche (100) and Panthers (99). Which of these teams will win The Presidents’ Trophy? It’s anyone’s guess. 

But, more importantly, should any of these teams WANT to win it?

In a sport overwhelmingly populated with superstitious players, coaches and executives, the Presidents’ Trophy Curse should be enough to make them all run for the hills, or, at least, skate away as fast as possible.  

Teams take painstaking precautions to not touch the conference championship trophies. Players will lace their skates up the exact same way every day since they’re five-years-old out of fear of jinxing themselves. Undershirts and protective padding get worn down over time due to excessive usage all in the name of superstition, rituals and routines. If a player scores two goals in a game they’re likely to wear the same undergarments for the next game – without washing them – just to try and keep the good feelings going. 

So, I ask again, WHY should any team want to win a trophy that carries a supposed curse?

Beyond the superstition and mysticism, there is a more practical reason to question why a team would want to win the Presidents’ Trophy. You see, finishing the season with the most points is nice, but it also means that you’re playing hard all the way to the end. Now, playing hard isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s the right way to play. But, if you’re in the conversation of leading the league, you’ve probably built up enough of a cushion to afford some of your players a little rest to get themselves ready for the grind of the playoffs. 

What’s more important, finishing with the most points? Or having your key players healthy and rested as you enter the merciless tournament known as The Stanley Cup Playoffs? People always say that whoever is hottest and healthiest at the end is likely the team who will go all the way and finish its story. But how can you get healthy if you don’t take a half-step back to allow your players a little time to recuperate from the marathon that is the 82-game regular-season?

I’m not saying NHL teams should take a page out of the NBA’s book and go all in on “Load Management,” but, perhaps going 80mph the last couple days of the season, instead of 100mph, might be beneficial to the teams who have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. After all, records are nice, but championships are forever. 

In other news, Auston Matthews has once again proven just how hard it is to get to 70-goals in a season. The mighty Leafs forward looked poised to blow past the 70-goal plateau as late as a couple weeks ago. But now? With just eight games left in the Leafs’ regular-season, Matthews sits at 62 goals after a two red light night on Monday. In his last 19 games, Matthews has scored just 11 goals. That’s a terrific run for mere mortals. However, for Matthews, it has all but ruined his chances of becoming the NHL’s first 70-goal scorer since 1992-93, when Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each lit the lamp 76 times. 

For the sake of comparison, prior to his 11 goals in 19 games stretch, Matthews scored 22 goals in the 19 games prior to that. That had Matthews on pace for 75 goals. Now, while 70 is still mathematically a possibility, it’s not likely. Maybe one day Matthews will get to 70, but after “cooling off” in March, that day likely won’t come in 2024. 

On the other hand, Connor McDavid, who got off to a slow start – for him at least – is now knocking on the door of becoming only the fourth player in NHL history to record at least 100 assists in a single season. Oh, and did we mention, he’s also knocking on the door of yet another Art Ross Trophy. 

McDavid is embroiled in a heated three-way race for the Art Ross with Nathan MacKinnon and Nikita Kucherov. The winner likely won’t be decided until the final day of the season. But McDavid has one advantage the other two don’t. He has more games left to play. Entering Monday, the Oilers had 10 games left in their regular-season while the Lightning only had eight and the Avalanche seven. 

Okay, so, what have we learned? 

1) It’s insanely difficult to score 70-goals in a season.

2) Connor McDavid is inevitable, much the same way Wayne Gretzky was.

3) The Presidents’ Trophy is cursed, yet the most superstitious athletes on the planet don’t seem to care. 

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