Mind you, I don’t know what it looks like, and I don’t think it ought to be paraded around town by team officials, or necessarily enshrined at Verizon Center or Kettler (there’s a spacious lunch room at team HQ; it might look good in there), but from where I blog, it’s no trifling matter.
The NHL regular season is long, too long, but hockey’s heritage — whether it’s Wayne’s 894 goals, Montreal’s 60 wins in ’76-’77, or Martin Brodeur’s 109 shutouts — is forged in the regular season. It’s where the most meaningful records are kept. The Presidents’ Trophy is just 24 years old, but some notable member clubs of distinction are without one: Montreal, Philly, Toronto, Vancouver, the Islanders. The ice shavings will have settled on the 2009-10 regular season at week’s end, and your Washington Capitals will have staked a significant claim to the league’s honor enrollment.
Or put another way: it’s becoming more and more difficult to associate the Capitals of today with their laughingstock predecessors of the past. Consecutive 50-win seasons is nifty all right. Now there’s nice hardware to acknowledge all the terrific work from October til April.
There’s much more significant hardware looming. We all know that. But the league contests games and fans and media compare achievements and records because our game is so special. What the Washington Capitals have achieved already this season is stunning; this trophy is the culmination of a season in which the club established a new benchmark for consecutive wins (14), and will likely win its division by 30 or more points. It’s a regular season that merits memorialization.
I prefer to think of this award as symbolic. Every player in the NHL would tell you that there’s only one piece of hardware in the sport that truly matters. And if the Caps stumble in one of the first three rounds of the upcoming postseason, they will have endured an upset, and the season will rightly be judged unsuccessful.
Still, there’s no small pride in earning what the Caps did this past weekend. Twenty nine other NHL clubs wish they’d had the season the Caps did. (It’s a good way to sell tickets, for instance.) It seems certain to me that the reigning Stanley Cup champions are less than thrilled at being upwards of 20 points back of the Caps in the standings. That’s been less than a robust defense of their Cup. The President’s Trophy is perhaps like earning valedictorian status at a high school: getting to no. 1 with hard work through school is significant, and it merits a moment on a stage, but much in the future is expected of the honoree, and now is the time to go out in the real world and demonstrate that distinguished pedigree. Just like the players, management and coaches desperately seek our sport’s Holy Grail — then and only then will what they tore down and resurrected last decade achieve its fullest reward — but never before has a Capitals’ club skated with a we’re-the-best-in the-league swagger as it has this season. This trophy is a tangible keepsake of that distinction.
This acknowledgement also serves as additional vindication for Ted Leonsis and George McPhee and Dick Patrick and all the others in team ownership and management who endured the slings and arrows of disappointment and dismay at a hockey club without a cornerstone star, a skilled supporting cast, a blueprint and infrastructure for durable success going forward, and most especially hope.
Early on at Verizon Center tonight no doubt there’ll be a spirited acknowledgement of the feat during a stoppage in play. That’ll be a special moment, one to savor, for it’s been an autumn, winter, and early spring of hockey to savor in Washington. Capitals’ fans should be even more proud today to brandish their uniform color about town. We’re at the head of the class this spring, but there’s a bigger job still to pursue.
|Year||Winner||Points||Playoff Result||Win #|
|1985–86||Edmonton Oilers||119||Lost Division final (CGY)||1|
|1986–87||Edmonton Oilers||105||Won Stanley Cup*||2|
|1987–88||Calgary Flames||105||Lost Division final (EDM)||1|
|1988–89||Calgary Flames||117||Won Stanley Cup*||2|
|1989–90||Boston Bruins||101||Lost Stanley Cup final (EDM)^||1|
|1990–91||Chicago Blackhawks||106||Lost Division semi-final (MIN)#||1|
|1991–92||New York Rangers||105||Lost Division final (PIT)||1|
|1992–93||Pittsburgh Penguins||119||Lost Division final (NYI)||1|
|1993–94||New York Rangers||112||Won Stanley Cup*||2|
|1994–95||Detroit Red Wings||070||Lost Stanley Cup final (NJ)^||1|
|1995–96||Detroit Red Wings||131||Lost Conference final (COL)||2|
|1996–97||Colorado Avalanche||107||Lost Conference final (DET)||1|
|1997–98||Dallas Stars||109||Lost Conference final (DET)||1|
|1998–99||Dallas Stars||114||Won Stanley Cup*||2|
|1999–2000||St. Louis Blues||114||Lost Conference quarter-final (SJ)#||1|
|2000–01||Colorado Avalanche||118||Won Stanley Cup*||2|
|2001–02||Detroit Red Wings||116||Won Stanley Cup*||3|
|2002–03||Ottawa Senators||113||Lost Conference final (NJ)||1|
|2003–04||Detroit Red Wings||109||Lost Conference semi-final (CGY)||4|
|2004–05||No winner because of the
2004–05 NHL lockout
|2005–06||Detroit Red Wings||124||Lost Conference quarter-final (EDM)#||5|
|2006–07||Buffalo Sabres||113||Lost Conference final (OTT)||1|
|2007–08||Detroit Red Wings||115||Won Stanley Cup*||6|
|2008–09||San Jose Sharks||117||Lost Conference quarter-final (ANA)#||1|
|2009–10||Washington Capitals (clinched)||114+||TBD||1|
|Table via Wikipedia|
* Team won the Stanley Cup. ^ Team lost in the Stanley Cup finals. # Team lost in the first round of the playoffs.