The Capitals clinched the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team that finishes with the most points during the (cough) regular (cough) season, for a second consecutive year and the third time in franchise history with a 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
While we still wouldn’t recommend buying a Capitals’ Presidents’ Trophy T-shirt commemorating the accomplishment, for reasons outlined in this space last year, it is an impressive feat, especially the back-to-back years part. Capitals Coach Barry Trotz, who claims his team hasn’t talked about the Presidents’ Trophy for one second this season, put it well:
“It is a symbol of excellence, a symbol of excellence for the regular season, a symbol of excellence for a team that has been consistent and takes pride in winning,” Trotz said Wednesday morning on 106.7 The Fan. “So, it’s not to be taken lightly, but at the same time, we all want the ultimate prize. That’s the one that you make your name with.”
The Capitals will continue their pursuit of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup next week, and their latest dominant regular season will ultimately be judged and remembered by how they fare in the postseason. Thanks to the NHL’s ‘stupid’ playoff format, the Capitals will face the Blue Jackets or Penguins in the second round, should they survive round one. Gulp. For now, let’s bask in the rarity of what this team has accomplished.
Consider: The Capitals just became the first D.C. team among the four major professional sports to finish with the best record in its sport in consecutive non-strike-shortened seasons since … ever. The Redskins tied for the NFL’s best record in the strike-shortened 1982 season at 8-1 and finished an NFL-best 14-2 the following year. D.C. United, which has won four MLS Cups — all since the last time one of D.C.’s Big Four won a championship — finished with the best record in MLS in 2006 and 2007.
Now, Titletown isn’t a nickname anyone would associate with D.C., especially over the last quarter-century, but the Redskins had their glory years, the Nationals have won the NL East three times since 2012 and the Bullets won an NBA championship before going 38 years without winning a freakin’ division title. The Senators won the American League in 1924 and 1925, but the National League’s New York Giants were one game better during the 1924 regular season. The 2015-16 and 2016-17 Capitals stand alone, or with the 1982 and 1983 Redskins.
The Capitals are the sixth team to win the Presidents’ Trophy in consecutive seasons, not counting the 2003-04 and 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings, who bookended the 2004-05 lockout with league-best records. From the start of the expansion era in 1967-68 until the Presidents’ Trophy was first awarded following the 1985-86 season, four other teams finished with the NHL’s best record in back-to-back years. After tying Buffalo and Philadelphia for the most points in 1974-75, Montreal had the league’s best record in each of the next three seasons.
You’ll probably encounter some version of the following note for as long as the Capitals are in the playoffs: Only two of the last 13 teams to win the Presidents’ Trophy (and 8 of 30 overall) have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The 2009-10 Capitals were one of four Presidents’ Trophy winners in the last 11 years to lose in the conference quarterfinals. A more optimistic note: Three of the five other teams to win the Presidents’ Trophy in back-to-back seasons (1986-87 Edmonton, 1988-89 Calgary and 1998-99 Dallas) capped the second season of their two-year runs of regular season dominance by winning the Stanley Cup.
Here’s a look at the 11 other D.C. teams in the four major pro sports that finished with the best regular season record in their respective leagues.
Playoffs: Lost NBA Finals to Seattle.
1974-75 Bullets (Tied with Celtics)
Playoffs: Lost NBA Finals to Golden State.
Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference semifinals to Pittsburgh.
Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Montreal.
Playoffs: Lost National League Division Series to St. Louis.
Playoffs: Lost World Series to N.Y. Giants.
Playoffs: Lost World Series to Pittsburgh.
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Buffalo.
Playoffs: Lost Super Bowl to Los Angeles Raiders.
1982 Redskins (Tied with Raiders)
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Miami.
Playoffs: Lost NFL Championship to Chicago.