The “12 Days of Christmas” is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Today we look at the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded annually to the team with the best overall record, based on points. The Detroit Red Wings have won the trophy six times, three more than any other club (the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals have each earned it three times), last capturing it in 2007-08. Today’s countdown to Christmas looks at the six times the Red Wings earned it and how they fared in each particular season.
Winning the Presidents’ Trophy Comes With a Stigma
Though finishing with the top mark in the league is generally something to celebrate, it’s often noted that teams tend to avoid the subject altogether. It’s easy to see why: since its inception in the 1985-86 season, only 11 Presidents’ Trophy winners have made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and only eight have won it all. The Red Wings can certainly commiserate, having only reached the Final in three of their six league-best seasons, winning twice.
Detroit is actually the only team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season more than once — they did it in both 2001-02 and 2007-08. The last team to win both in the same season were the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks.
Other teams who finished with the best regular-season record and won the Stanley Cup are the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers, 1988-89 Calgary Flames, 1993-94 New York Rangers, 1998-99 Dallas Stars, and the 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche. The 1989-90 Boston Bruins, 1994-95 Red Wings, and 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks all lost in the final round.
Red Wings 1990s Presidents’ Trophies Led to No Playoff Success
Detroit finished with the best regular-season record in two consecutive seasons in the 1990s — the lockout-shortened season in 1994-95 and again in 1995-96.
The 1994-95 season was seemingly a breakthrough campaign, as the Red Wings captured their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy while compiling a 33-11-4 record. They cruised through the playoffs, going a combined 12-2 in series wins over Dallas, San Jose, and Chicago, but ran into a buzzsaw in the New Jersey Devils, getting swept right out of the Stanley Cup Final.
Detroit appeared to bounce back the following season, again earning the Presidents’ Trophy during a record-setting season that saw them win 62 games and amass 131 points (The Tampa Bay Lightning had 62 wins and 128 points two seasons ago but also failed to win the Stanley Cup). Though the team scored one of the most memorable goals in franchise history against the Blues in Game 7 of the semi-finals that season, they again experienced bitter disappointment after the Avalanche dispatched them in six games en route to winning the championship.
All was certainly not lost, though, as the Red Wings went on to end their championship drought with back-to-back championships in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons — albeit without the Presidents’ Trophy in tow.
Trophy-Winning Teams in the 2000s Had a Bit More Success
The 2000s were slightly more forgiving, as the Red Wings captured the Presidents’ Trophy four times while experiencing slightly more success in the process. Detroit broke through and beat the stigma in 2001-02 while fielding a roster that was the who’s who of the Hockey Hall of Fame, winning both the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season.
The next two trophy-winning teams didn’t fare as well. Though they provided solid bookends to the lost lockout season, the Red Wings again came up empty after winning the regular season in both 2003-04 and 2005-06. In 2003-04, they lost in the semi-finals to the Flames, while in 2005-06, they were stunned in six games by the Oilers in the quarterfinals.
Detroit’s final Presidents’ Trophy win happens to coincide with its last title, having won it in 2007-08 after posting a regular-season mark of 54-21-7. That captured their 11th championship in franchise history, and the Red Wings have made it to the Stanley Cup Final just one time since.
Those memories of regular season and postseason success feel like a distant memory now, as the Red Wings haven’t even finished with a winning record since their 41-30-11 campaign in 2015-16. The team is rebuilding with plenty of talent in its pipeline, and both players and fans hope to see a return to the level of success these teams showed very soon.
Which of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning clubs do you remember best? Share your thoughts in the comments down below.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.