In European football, they have a concept called the Double. A team that takes both the league's championship and its challenge cup in the same season is said to have won the Double. It's a fairly rare accomplishment, and carries a good deal of prestige with it. Each half of the Double is also well-respected individually, which by itself is something of a foreign concept to North American sports fan. On our side of the Atlantic, only postseason championships matter. In the NHL, the President's Trophy is akin to kissing one's sister, a shadow of the thrill of winning the ultimate prize. This attitude is ingrained in the league finances as well, as the money teams receive for the President's Trophy pales in comparison to the Stanley Cup's cash prize.
This has always struck me as strange. If you demonstrate that you're the best hockey team over a long, grueling schedule of 82 games, but then have the misfortune of losing four games out of seven, you're seen as losers, as chokers. You should have won, but you didn't. But that's silly; you did win, of course. You won more than anyone else over a large number of games. Surely that's a good test of which team is the best, at least as good as playing a short-series knockout tournament, when teams that performed far worse than you over 82 games get another chance to get lucky and knock you out.
We should get in the habit of considering the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup as being similar in importance. Both are symbolic of a championship team, in different ways. Each is worthy of your respect. Teams that show they are the best over a span of six months deserve your respect, regardless of what happens in the few weeks following that, regardless of what you've been told to believe. And if we respect both the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup, we can then have our own version of the Double, for teams that win both in the same season.
This Double would not be perfectly analogous to its European football equivalent, since their cup challenges occur throughout the season rather than at the end. However, Major League Soccer has a Double of its own, for teams that win both its regular season championship and its postseason title. This Double would be something very rare in today's game, given the number of teams in the NHL and the relative parity we have today. It would therefore be a very prestigious accomplishment, one which requires a regular season title to accomplish. This rarity wouldn't always have been the case, though. In hockey's early years, there were a small number of teams, and one league was far above the others in quality. Let's start at the beginning of Stanley Cup play (1893) to award some retroactive Doubles.
In the early years, the Double should be a very common achievement. The Montreal-based eastern league was by far the highest quality league, and only when the Winnipeg Vics come from the frosty west every so often to claim the Cup should there not be a Double. Were it only that easy. There are always complications, especially in these chaotic years.
Several early years require some interpretation as to who should be considered Stanley Cup champions for our purposes. The Cup was originally awarded on a challenge basis. The team that won the league in which last year's champion played was awarded the Cup when their schedule was finished, and then teams from other leagues could then challenge the new Cup holders for the right to the title. An interesting situation arose in 1895. The Montreal Victorias won the championship of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC), and so would have taken over the Cup title from the Montreal AAA club, who played in their league and had won the title the season before. But the Cup trustees had already accepted a challenge from Queen's University of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), and as such, ordered the AAA (who Queen's had challenged) to play the university boys from Kingston. But since the Winged Wheelers (a nickname for the AAA, based on their crest which would ultimately inform the creation of the Red Wings design) had no claim to the Cup, it was decided that if they won the challenge series, the Victorias would be Stanley Cup champions. And that's exactly what happened. But since the Winged Wheelers won the only Stanley Cup challenge played in the 1895 season, we'll give them credit for the Cup championship here, thus denying the Vics the Double.
In 1904, in a dispute over a game (in amateur hockey, there was always a dispute over a game), Ottawa withdrew from the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL), the successor to the AHAC, before the end of the season. Since Ottawa were Cup champions from the season before, they took the Stanley Cup with them, and accepted three challenges, holding on to the trophy each time. Quebec ultimately won the CAHL championship that year, but without Ottawa in the league they did not receive the Cup, and they did not issue a challenge, eliminating their chances for the Double.
In 1905, Ottawa was in the Federal Amateur Hockey League (FAHL), joining the Montreal Wanderers, who would soon be one of hockey's dominant teams. Ottawa defended their Cup title after the season, and another challenge was to be played between them and the CAHL champion Montreal Vics, who had the best record in senior hockey. However, due to the lateness in the season, no dates could be agreed upon, and Ottawa finished the season holding the trophy. The Montreal Vics were thus denied another Double.
In 1907, the team from the tiny town of Kenora challenged the powerful Montreal Wanderers for the Stanley Cup. To the surprise of many easterners, the Thistles took the title by winning a two-game, total-goals series (a common arrangement at the time) 12 to 8. At the end of the season, the Wanderers in turn challenged the Thistles, and beat them 12 to 8 in two games. However, since Kenora actually won three of the four games (the first series was 4-2 and 8-6, the second 2-7 and 6-5), we'll call them Cup champions for the season, and the Wanderers league champions but not Double winners.
"Double" winners, 1883-1911
Season League winner Stanley Cup winner
1893 Montreal AAA Montreal AAA
1894 Montreal AAA Montreal AAA
1895 Montreal Vics Montreal AAA
1896 Montreal Vics Winnipeg Vics
1897 Montreal Vics Montreal Vics
1898 Montreal Vics Montreal Vics
1899 Montreal Shamrocks Montreal Shamrocks
1900 Montreal Shamrocks Montreal Shamrocks
1901 Ottawa Senators Winnipeg Vics
1902 Montreal AAA Montreal AAA
1903 Ottawa Senators Ottawa Senators
1904 Quebec Bulldogs Ottawa Senators
1905 Montreal Vics Ottawa Senators
1906 Ottawa Senators Montreal Wanderers
1907 Montreal Wanderers Kenora Thistles
1908 Montreal Wanderers Montreal Wanderers
1909 Ottawa Senators Ottawa Senators
1910 Montreal Wanderers Montreal Wanderers
1911 Ottawa Senators Ottawa Senators
From 1893 to 1911, then, there were 12 Doubles in 19 seasons, or close to two-thirds of time. This is a higher percentage than in any future time, but there is one other period which comes close, as we'll later see. We're now up to 1912, where we finally have two major leagues, both regularly having teams capable of hockey's ultimate prize. But that's a subject for next time.