Last night the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Los Angeles Kings and clinched the NHL Presidents’ Trophy in the process. This is the first Presidents’ Trophy in team history and it’s definitely a great accomplishment for the franchise.
However, any player, coach or general manager will tell you that the Presidents’ Trophy means nothing in comparison to the Stanley Cup.
Are the Canucks a team that can claim the greatest prize in the sport?
If the playoffs started today, the Vancouver Canucks would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. It seems like a bit of a cruel fate that the Canucks’ reward for earning the best record in the league is playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions. However, it’s not just the defending champs that the Canucks may see when they look at the Blackhawks, they will also see the team that has ended their season two years in a row.
Sure, the Blackhawks are a different team this year and Roberto Luongo won’t have to deal with the Dustin Byfuglien causing havoc in front of his net, but the Hawks could also represent a mental block for Vancouver. Can they overcome the feeling that the Blackhawks have their number?
Perhaps the even bigger question is can they overcome the notion that the team – and Luongo in particular – can’t win the big one?
Roberto Luongo may have silenced some of his critics when he took home an Olympic gold medal last year, but many still have the perception that he isn’t a “money goalie” and that he can’t win when it counts. These labels have followed him throughout his career and, if the Canucks are going to succeed this season, Luongo will need to prove his critics wrong. In that sense, perhaps it’s best that the Canucks face the Hawks and that Luongo is given another chance to slay his demons. It could be the confidence booster that he needs if he can do it.
However, the Chicago Blackhawks and Roberto Luongo’s reputation aren’t the only pieces of history that are siding against Vancouver this season. Even if the Canucks draw a different first round opponent, the history of Presidents’ Trophy winners doesn’t look at Vancouver favourably.
24 teams have won the trophy prior to this season. Out of those 24 teams, only seven of them have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Two other teams have lost in the Stanley Cup Final. That’s only nine out of 24 teams that have gone on to play for the Cup.
In the last two seasons the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals have defined what some call “the Presidents’ Trophy Curse.” Both teams were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and the criticism started to fly. However, the 2008 Presidents’ Trophy winners were the Detroit Red Wings, and they went on to claim the Cup.
So is there actually any correlation between the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup Success? The fact that several teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup mostly defeats the idea that there is some kind of curse attached to the trophy, but history does show us that the playoffs are a totally different animal and that regular season success doesn’t necessary translate into playoff glory.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about the Canucks’ season without mentioning injuries. Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Mason Raymond, Manny Malhotra, Andrew Alberts, Mikael Samuelsson and many, many other Canucks have missed time this season. The fact that Vancouver has been able to find success with so many pieces of their line-up absent deserves serious credit. The team’s depth is what got them to this point and depth is certainly key in the playoffs.
But will all of these injuries catch up to the Canucks? The playoffs are a long grind and Vancouver already has several players who are playing with increased roles on this injury-laden team. Will those players burn out or suffer injuries themselves? Is Vancouver deep enough to overcome everything they’ve been through and everything they may go through in the postseason?
Obviously there’s no way to know how the Canucks will fare until the time comes. However, the adversity that Vancouver has been through may be enough to bring the team back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994. Only time will tell.