The Presidents’ Trophy is a strange award. It’s essentially the highest honor an NHL team can earn during the regular season, yet the hardware itself is almost instantly forgotten the second the puck drops on the playoffs. Winning the Presidents’ Trophy sets the bar even higher for the postseason, meaning the potential for disappointment is raised if things don’t go according to plan in late April and May.
Oddly enough, just two of the last 11 Presidents’ Trophy winners have gone on to hoist the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, four of the league’s top teams have bowed out in the first round over that same period of time. Still, there’s an undeniable advantage to finishing with the best record in the NHL for one simple reason: home ice advantage all the way through the playoffs. If a club can handle the heightened expectations – and thrives in their own building – that’s a nice boost to get with the season on the line.
So who has the inside track to finishing at the top of the standings this season? Funny you should ask, because that’s why we’re here. Six clubs have a realistic shot at the NHL’s No. 1 overall seed, and they’re all pretty prolific on home ice. Here’s a look at what each team faces over these final two weeks…
1. Anaheim Ducks (49-22-7, 105 points)
Games Remaining: 4 (v EDM, v COL, v DAL, @ ARI)
Record on Home Ice: 25-10-3
Bruce Boudreau’s squad may have the fewest games remaining, but they’ve also banked the most points already. And at a certain point, having the actual wins racked up is worth more than having games in hand. Sure, a team like Montreal or the New York Rangers might ultimately run them down for that top spot, but the Ducks have done their part by winning seven of their last nine. Plus, they get the extra benefit of some rest down the stretch, with just four contests spread out over the final two weeks of the season. The biggest challenge for Anaheim lately has simply been finding the proper motivation to keep winning with the Pacific essentially wrapped up for about a month now. But it hasn’t been an issue. And the Ducks’ 31 wins (and ,795 winning percentage) in one-goal games bodes well for hockey’s second season.
2. Montreal Canadiens (47-21-8, 102 points)
Games Remaining: 6 (v TBL, v WSH, @ NJD, @ FLA, v DET, @ TOR)
Record on Home Ice: 25-8-5
The Canadiens have a few more playoff contenders to deal with down the stretch than the Ducks do, but they also close out the season with the Maple Leafs. That alone could give them the inside track to at least land the top spot in the East. They also have Carey Price, who has dropped consecutive games in regulation just once since December 6.
3. New York Rangers (47-21-7, 101 points)
Games Remaining: 7 (@ WPG, @ MIN, v NJD, v CBJ, @ NJD, v OTT, @ WSH)
Record on Home Ice: 23-10-5
The Rangers somehow still have seven games left on the schedule and, with the way they’ve been playing lately, it seems likely they’ll end up translating most of those contests directly into points. They did stumble a bit this weekend, losing to the desperate Bruins and desperate Capitals. But they also went 17-3-2 in their previous 22, so we’ll forgive them. Henrik Lundqvist is back, meaning there might be a slight adjustment period here while he finds his rhythm and Cam Talbot adapts to a reduction in playing time. But they have the time to make those adjustments before the playoffs and, with those two netminders at their disposal, they’ll be tough to beat at home, on the road or on the moon.
4. Nashville Predators (47-22-8, 102 points)
Games Remaining: 5 (v VAN, v DAL, @ COL, v MIN, @ DAL)
Record on Home Ice: 28-8-2
It’s sort of remarkable that the Preds are still in this position, considering they dropped six straight from February 26 to March 7. A healthy Pekka Rinne is back to taking over games though, and the guys up front seem to have rediscovered their scoring touch. Nashville’s final five matchups are all against teams that are still fighting for their playoff lives, so Peter Laviolette’s group will have some say over who exactly gets those wild card spots in the West. And then there’s a good chance they’ll face off with one of them in the opening round.
5. St. Louis Blues (46-22-7, 99 points)
Games Remaining: 7 (v VAN, v CGY, @ DAl, @ CHI, v WPG, v CHI, v MIN)
Record on Home Ice: 24-10-2
For St. Louis, these final two weeks could be more about avoiding Chicago in the first round than locking up home ice throughout the playoffs. Then again, winning the Central and dodging the Blackhawks might just mean a meeting with battle-tested Los Angeles to start things off anyway – hardly a reward. Ultimately, this could be the best Blues team in recent memory, so they’re not going to shy away from any matchup. And the road through the West is going to lead through the Kings and ‘Hawks until proven otherwise anyway. But it wouldn’t hurt to have any and all potential Game 7’s at the Scottrade Center.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (46-23-7, 99 points)
Games Remaining: 6 (@ MTL, @ TOR, @ OTT, @ FLA, v NJD, v BOS)
Record on Home Ice: 30-8-1
The Lightning have the best home record in all of hockey, so getting that top spot might actually mean more to this group than anyone else. They’ve got an uphill battle if they plan on running down the Habs and Rangers though, so the most notable part of Tampa’s final few games could be that matchup with playoff-hopeful Boston on the last day of the regular season.