Last night the Montreal Canadiens, a team traditionally playing out of the Eastern Conference, clinched the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, a trophy traditionally awarded to the winner of the Western Conference Final.
Well this happened for an incredibly unique combination of reasons…
The pandemic resulted in a disruption to cross-border travel which forced the NHL into realigning all the Canadian-based teams into a single division for the 2020-21 season during which they’d only play each against the other teams in their division. This forced the rest of the league to temporarily do away with the typical Eastern and Western Conferences, instead four new divisions were created – the East, West, Central, and North.
With four divisions instead of two conferences we lost the Conference Final round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, replaced with the newly-coined Stanley Cup Semifinal round. Instead of the third round consisting of the last two remainining Eastern teams and the last two remainining Western teams we instead have four division winners. These four were re-seeded first through fourth based on regular season points, and then paired off as 1st vs 4th, 2nd vs 3rd.
About a week before the Semifinal round, a report circulated that the NHL would NOT be awarding the two conference trophies this year because there would be no Conference Finals. I suppose their concern was we’d be left with a Eastern vs Western matchup on either side of the bracket and it’d be impossible to decide which winner should get which trophy.
Well, about that…
When the four semifinal teams were finally set we were left with three teams traditionally based in the Eastern Conference and just one from the Western. Matchups were the #1 Vegas Golden Knights from the new mini-West against the #4 Canadiens from the new North, and the #2 Tampa Bay Lightning from the new Central facing the #3 New York Islanders from the new mini-East.
In one series (Bolts-Isles) you have Eastern vs Eastern, basically an Eastern Conference Final, so the NHL apparently reversed course (good decision!!) and decided to award the Prince of Wales Trophy (the Eastern Conference playoff trophy) to the winner of this series. If you’re going to award one, you should award the other, therefore the Campbell Bowl was then to be given to the winner of the series featuring the only Western team left (Knights-Habs). As long as the lower seeded Eastern Conference team from Montreal didn’t win, things wouldn’t end up weird at all.
Welp, the Eastern team won. The Montreal Canadiens, a team who had never ever before been eligible to even compete for the trophy was suddenly crowned the winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, adding yet another award to their already crowded trophy case.
The Montreal Canadiens join the New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers as teams to win both the Campbell Bowl and Wales Trophy, and now await the 2021 Wales Trophy Winners (either the Islanders or Lightning) to battle in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.