The Boston Bruins are the odds-on favorite to win the 2023 Stanley Cup, having dominated the NHL throughout the regular season to the tune of a league-record 135 points and the franchise’s fourth-ever Presidents’ Trophy. Now, the Bruins will face a test many teams like them have failed to pass in the past: the NHL Playoffs.

Presidents’ Trophy winners don’t have a great track record in the NHL’s postseason. Since the award began in the 1985-86 campaign, its recipient has only won the Stanley Cup eight times. That’s just above a 22 percent rate. In three other instances, the Presidents’ Trophy winner has reached the Stanley Cup Finals but botched it at the end. That means that roughly three out of every 10 regular season champion have survived until the ultimate series. Those are not great odds.

The History of Presidents’ Trophy Winners in the NHL Playoffs

At this point, no Presidents’ Trophy champ has achieved the same in the playoffs since 2013 when the Chicago Blackhawks went 36-7-5 (77 points) in a lockout-shortened season, then slid through the Wild, Red Wings, Kings, and Bruins to win their fifth-ever Cup.

The next-most recent instance of the regular-season giant securing the Stanley Cup was Detroit in 2008. After a 54-21-7 (115 points) campaign, the ’08 Red Wings never let an opponent experience a Game 7 en route to the mountaintop.

That’s the list of Presidents’ Trophy winners who were successful in any of the last 19 NHL Playoffs. None of the other 17 brought the Cup home, and 16 of them didn’t even reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

But it’s even worse than it sounds: of the 36 all-time Presidents’ Trophy winners, 19 of them failed to escape the second round. Not even first-round upsets are that rare – that’s happened seven times, most notably when the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the record-setting Lightning in 2019, prompting Tampa to produce one of the most famous sports tweets ever.

It didn’t use to be this lopsided against the team that ran the regular season. Half of the Stanley Cup champions from the first four years of the Presidents’ Trophy’s existence were winners of the regular season award. It grew more sparing for the regular season champ to repeat in the playoffs after that, with the 1993-94 New York Rangers the only team to accomplish the feat between the 1989-90 and 1997-98 seasons. Presidents’ Trophy holders maintained their thrones in three of the following four campaigns, then the modern 2-in-19 run began.

What Happened to the Last 9 Presidents Trophy Winners?

In 2014, Boston put up 117 points with 54 wins to finish atop the NHL standings. The Bruins dispatched the Red Wings in five in the first round but couldn’t overcome the Canadiens, dropping out of the playoffs in seven games to their hated rivals.

The Rangers had the X on their backs heading into the 2015 NHL Playoffs. After tallying 113 points in the regular season, New York reached the Eastern Conference Finals, defeating the Penguins (4-1) first and the Capitals (4-3) second to get there. But the Lightning shutout the Rangers out in Game 7 to end the No. 1 seed’s title hopes.

Washington won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies in 2015-16 (120 points) and 2016-17 (118 points). Each of its playoff experiences from those seasons also ended in the same way: with a second-round loss to the eventual champions, Pittsburgh. In 2016, the Capitals beat the Flyers before the Pens ended their season, and in 2017, Washington toppled Toronto to then earn the same fate as the year prior.

It was Nashville’s turn in 2018. The Predators put together their best-ever regular season of 117 points and used it to advance one round in the playoffs. Nashville moved by Colorado, 4-2, in the first round, before bowing out to Winnipeg next via a 5-1 demolition in Game 7 in the second round.

Tampa melted down spectacularly in the initial round of the 2019 NHL Playoffs after collecting 128 points and winning 62 games. Against a Blue Jackets team that barely qualified for the postseason, the Lightning laid down. Columbus swept Tampa, shocking the organization and the entire hockey world. It’s the only time in history that the Presidents Trophy winner failed to triumph in a single playoff game.

The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20 with 100 points, but the pandemic meant a weird ending to the campaign. Boston had to play in a round-robin in the Toronto bubble to determine the East’s top-four seeds, and it didn’t do so well, winding up as the conference’s No. 4 seed. Still, the Bruins whipped out the Hurricanes in five games in the first round. In the subsequent stage, the Tampa Bay buzzsaw blasted the Bruins back to Boston in the same amount of outings.

The pandemic continued to affect the 2020-21 season, meaning a depressed point total of 82 was enough for the Avalanche to claim the Presidents’ Trophy. In the playoffs, Colorado swept St. Louis in the first round, then ran into trouble against the Golden Knights. After the Avs bossed Game 1, 7-1, and took a 2-0 lead to start the series, Vegas roared back to secure four straight and a spot in the Western Conference Finals.

Florida was the latest victim of the Presidents’ Trophy curse. The Panthers won 58 games and put up 122 points in 2021-22, and they carried that momentum to a victory versus the Capitals in the first round. Unfortunately for Florida, its northern neighbors were next in the way, and the Lightning were still running on fuel from the failure of 2019. At the hands of Tampa Bay, the Panthers became the fourth-ever Presidents’ Trophy owner to be swept from the playoffs.

What Does This Mean for the Bruins?

Maybe nothing, maybe everything.

This season’s Presidents’ Trophy winner isn’t your standard bunch. Boston won 65 games in 2022-23, surpassing the 1996 Red Wings and 2019 Lightning by three for the most-ever regular season victories. It appears to be an unstoppable force, but we’ve seen this movie before. The 2022-23 Bruins could be different – it’s not as though regular season heroes have exclusively been playoffs zeroes – but it’s abundantly clear that the connection between the NHL’s regular and post-seasons is tenuous at best. It’s another beast to hoist the Cup over your head in June.

What other teams with different players did in the past has nothing to do with how the 2022-23 Bruins will do in the playoffs. A Presidents’ Trophy winner will eventually snap the ongoing drought. However, the poor track record of squads in similar circumstances shows that no matter how formidable a side was in the regular season, all it takes is a blazing-hot goaltender, some bad bounces, or a few poor performances to spin out on the road to the Stanley Cup.

If Boston were to triumph in the playoffs, it would become the ninth-ever Presidents’ Trophy winner to do so, joining the exclusive club shared by the 2012-13 Blackhawks, 2007-08 Red Wings, 2001-02 Red Wings, 2000-01 Avalanche, 1998-99 Stars, 1993-94 Rangers, 1988-89 Canadiens, and 1986-87 Oilers. If the Bruins succeed in the Eastern Conference Finals but do not manage four victories in the ensuing Stanley Cup Finals, they would enter the same conversation as the 2010-11 Canucks, 1994-95 Red Wings, and 1989-90 Bruins as teams that nearly had it all but couldn’t quite get it done.


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