The playoff beard has pretty much been a players-only tradition, but a new era began in 2008-09 when Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux adopted the superstition along with the team. This isn’t surprising given that Lemieux was (a) a Hall of Fame player himself and (b) landlord to the team’s captain, Sidney Crosby. No doubt at the start of the playoffs, over a bowl of cereal at breakfast, the captain challenged the owner to play along and toss the razor aside for the duration. And so it was that on the ice and in the dressing room after Pittsburgh’s historic victory in June 2009, Lemieux raised the Cup high above his bearded face in triumph. It is highly doubtful that the older and more corporate owners will follow Mario’s lead, but Penguins fans can be sure that Lemieux will continue with the tradition as long as it has strength (having Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the team doesn’t hurt, either).
TO LIFT OR ONLY TO SMILE?
Probably the most inconsistent superstition in the NHL concerns the tactile fortunes of the Prince of Wales Trophy (awarded to the Eastern Conference champions) and the Clarence Campbell Bowl (awarded to the Western Conference champions), two beautiful examples of silverware that have done nothing to deserve the plague-like misfortunes that have befallen them. Sometimes.
THE PLAYOFF BEARD REACHES THE OWNER’S BOX NHL Photo Gallery
Each trophy is presented to the winning team after it claims the conference title and, by so doing, earns a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. The problem is that as some players and teams would have fans believe to hoist these trophies is to accept and celebrate mediocrity. It’s as much as saying, “Yeah! We’ve won the conference title!” But, of course, being one of the two best teams in the league is meaningless compared to winning the Stanley Cup itself, so players often eschew lifting the trophy as a way of saying, “This means little to us. The only trophy we’re lifting is the Stanley Cup.”
The on-ice presentation started within the last two decades, so it doesn’t have the history of the Cup presentation or even the playoff beard. And the league itself admits that the two conference trophies aren’t as important because these are presented by Bill Daly, the right-hand man of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. It is Bettman himself, of course, who delivers the Stanley Cup to the winning captain.
As for the players, there are three kinds of presentation reaction. First, the player can actually accept and lift the trophy from the presentation table. Second, the polite thanks-but-no-thanks reaction is to smile and gently touch the trophy as it sits on said table. And third, the player stands beside the table without so much as acknowledging the presence of any silverware.
New Jersey captain Scott Stevens had no problem with lifting the Prince of Wales, and he led the Devils to three Stanley Cups. Ditto for Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom in the Western Conference with Detroit. But in 2008, Sidney Crosby refused to touch the Prince of Wales, and the Penguins went on to lose to Detroit in the Cup finals. In 2009, Crosby sought to reverse his fortunes, so he lifted the trophy (but not overhead) and his team went on to win the Cup.
In short, these two conference trophies elicit a superstition of some form every year, and every year the trophy is either touched or not touched, resulting in either victory or loss of the Stanley Cup. In other words, go figure.