You see it every year. When a team wins their conference, they’re presented with a trophy. The Eastern Conference team is awarded the Prince of Wales Trophy, while the Western Conference team is awarded the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. The trophies signify you’re the best in your conference, so obviously they mean a lot to the team winning it. However, nothing means more than the most notorious trophy is all of sports, the Stanley Cup.
That’s the premise behind the superstition of not touching the conference champion trophies. You aren’t supposed to touch them because the real prize is the Stanley Cup. It’s not meant to lessen the achievement of claiming either award, just to signify the importance of the Cup.
When did it start?
In 1997, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers squared off in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers took the series in five games, earning the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. During the post-game trophy presentation, captain Eric Lindros was present beside the Prince of Wales Trophy as it was awarded to the Flyers.
He didn’t touch it.
The thought process behind not touching the trophy was that it’s bad luck to celebrate any accomplishment short of a Stanley Cup victory. Lindros and the Flyers wound up getting swept by Detroit, whose captain (Steve Yzerman) did in fact touch the Clarence S. Campbell Cup.
Does not touching the trophy work?
Since 1997, 11 of the 22 Stanley Cup champions refused to touch their respective conference’s trophy. Flip a coin, it’s the same odds. Where the stats really start to differ is when you take a look at each conference on their own. We’re going to take a look at the amount of teams in each conference that did or didn’t touch their conference trophy, and won or lost the Stanley Cup.
Over the last 22 seasons, eight Western Conference champions have touched the Clarence S. Campbell Cup. Out of those eight teams, five of them went on to win the Stanley Cup. Detroit won thrice, Dallas won once, and Colorado won as well after touching the trophy. Calgary, Vegas, and Dallas all lost the Stanley Cup after touching the conference championship.
On the flip side, 14 of the last 22 Western Conference champions refused to touch the conference championship. Of those 14, eight went on to hoist Lord Stanley. Anaheim, Detroit and St. Louis all won once, while Chicago won three times and Los Angeles won twice. The six teams that lost the Stanley Cup after not touching the conference championship were Anaheim, Edmonton, Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, and Nashville.
When it comes to the Eastern Conference, it’s a dead split. 11 teams touched the Prince of Wales Trophy, while 11 didn’t. Of the 11 that did touch the trophy, however, six of them won the Stanley Cup. Those teams are Washington, New Jersey twice, and Pittsburgh three times. The five teams that touched the Prince of Wales Trophy and lost the Stanley Cup are the Capitals, Devils, Hurricanes, Senators, and the Flyers.
The other 11 teams remaining did not touch the conference championship. Of those 11 teams, three of them went on to win the Stanley Cup. Those three teams are Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Boston. The eight teams that didn’t touch the conference championship, but lost the Stanley Cup are Philadelphia, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay, and Boston twice.
Breaking down the scenarios
So we’ve touched on each conference and the success rates of teams that touch their respective trophies and vice versa. It’s time to look at some head-to-head stats. What happens when the Eastern Conference team touches the conference championship and the Western Conference team doesn’t? What happens if they both touch the conference championship? Here’s where we find that out.
Eastern Conference Touches, Western Conference Doesn’t
This scenario has happened six times over the last 22 seasons. 2003, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2016, and 2017 saw an Eastern Conference team hold the Prince of Wales Trophy while the Western Conference team opted to leave the trophy on the table.
Of those six instances, the Eastern Conference came away with four Stanley Cups, coming in 2003, 2009, 2016, & 2017. The two Stanley Cups from the Western Conference in this scenario came in 2007 and 2010.
Western Conference Touches, Eastern Conference Doesn’t
This scenario has happened a little less frequently than the first. Three time in the past 22 years, an Eastern Conference champion has declined to hoist the Prince of Wales Trophy while the Clarence S. Campbell trophy was lifted over the best Western Conference team in hockey.
In those three instances, the Eastern Conference only came away with one Stanley Cup, in 2004. The Western Conference team claimed victory in the 1997 and 1999 seasons under these circumstances.
Both Conferences Touch the Trophy
Both the Eastern Conference champions and Western Conference champions have hoisted their respective trophies five times in the past 22 seasons. In 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2018, both conference champions took hold of their conference championship trophies, disregarding any superstition that may be.
Of the five times this happened, the Eastern Conference won only two of the five Stanley Cups, coming in 2000 and 2018. The Western Conference team reigned supreme in 1998, 2001, and 2002 under these circumstances.
Neither Conference Touches the Trophy
The most frequent of the four scenarios, neither Stanley Cup Final team touched their conference championship eight times in the last 22 seasons. This happened in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and just last year in 2019.
Of those eight instances, the Western Conference holds the advantage with six Stanley Cups. They took home Lord Stanley in 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, while the Eastern Conference took home the 2006 and 2011 under those same circumstances.
So… What’s the Verdict?
There really is no verdict here. The Western Conference has won 13 of the last 22 Stanley Cups, so maybe you want to side with whatever they chose to do in regards to the Clarence S. Campbell trophy. It’s all based on whether a team captain is superstitious enough to get it in his head that if he touches the trophy, his team may not win the Stanley Cup.
It’s absolutely a difficult decision, and tends to be micro and over-analyzed when it does or doesn’t happen. Touching the trophy is said to be bad luck, but when a team that touches their conference trophy wins the Stanley Cup 50% of the time over the past 22 years, it’s tough to really say with certainty that an argument like this carries much weight.
Sidney Crosby is notorious for not giving a you-know-what about the stigma surrounding touching the Prince of Wales trophy, even though he’s admitted to being superstitious. Alex Ovechkin grabbed ahold of the trophy in 2018, and about two weeks later, he was on one hell of a bender with another trophy in tow.
It’s all in what you believe. Touching your conference championship trophy isn’t a sin, although some will argue it is. Not touching it won’t guarantee you a Stanley Cup, right Lindros?
Mandatory Credit – © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Credit to On the Forecheck for compiling the touching v. not touching stats from 1997 to 2016