The Prince of Wales Trophy, also known as the Wales Trophy, is an award presented by the National Hockey League (NHL) to the Eastern Conference (formerly the Wales Conference) playoff champions, prior to the final series of games for the Stanley Cup. Named for Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII, and then Duke of Windsor), the trophy was first presented in the 1925–26 NHL season to the champion of the first game in Madison Square Garden and then subsequently presented to the champion of the NHL playoffs (including the previous two seasons); however, the trophy has been awarded for eight different accomplishments throughout its history, including for the NHL regular season champions, the American Division regular season champions, the East Division season champions, the Wales Conference regular season champions, the Wales Conference playoff champions, and the Eastern Conference playoff champions. The current holder of the Prince of Wales Trophy is the New York Rangers after winning the 2014 Eastern Conference Championship.
The Prince of Wales Trophy was first announced in December 1925. The trophy, sponsored by the Prince of Wales and bearing the royal coat of arms cost $2,500, and was to be in the possession of the league champion. It was originally awarded to the winner of the first game played in Madison Square Garden, held on December 15, 1925 (Montreal Canadiens3 at New York Americans1). The award was then held by the Canadiens until the end of the season. The Canadiens engraved their name on the trophy twice, for the 1924–25 season, and the preceding 1923–24 season, for which the team was league champions.
It was then awarded to the NHL playoff champion in 1925–26 and 1926–27, (along with the O'Brien Cup) before that team would go on to face the Western Hockey League (WHL) champion for the Stanley Cup. After the demise of the WHL, however, the Stanley Cup was awarded exclusively to the NHL playoff champion, and the Wales Trophy was given to the regular season champion. From 1927-28 season on, the trophy was awarded to the champion of the American Division of the NHL, while the O'Brien Cup was presented to the Canadian Division champion, until 1938, when, after the NHL reverted to a single division, the Wales Trophy was made the award for the overall regular season champion.
With the expansion of the NHL in 1967, and the creation of the Western Division, the Wales Trophy was given to the team that finished in first place in the Eastern Division, during the regular season. When the league formed two conferences in 1974, the trophy transferred to the team that finished with the best regular season record in the Wales Conference, until 1981, when the NHL changed its playoff format so that the two teams meeting in the Stanley Cup finals could no longer come from the same conference, and the Prince of Wales Trophy was presented to the Wales Conference playoff champions. By 1994, the trophy was awarded to the Eastern Conference playoff champions.
A superstition that is prevalent among many of today's NHL players is that no player should either touch or hoist the Wales (Eastern Conference champion) or Clarence S. Campbell (Western Conference champion) Trophies after they have won the conference playoffs; these players feel that the Stanley Cup is the true championship trophy and thus it should be the only trophy that they should be hoisting. Instead of touching the conference trophy, the captain of the winning team merely poses (usually looking solemn) with the trophy, and sometimes, the entire team poses as well. However, there have been other teams who have ignored the superstition and hoisted the conference trophies, sometimes going on to win the Cup anyway.