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 American Division regular season champions, the NHL 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 Tampa Bay Lightning after winning the 2015 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 at the end of those seasons. 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 West Division, the Wales Trophy was given to the team that finished in first place in the East 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. The NHL changed its playoff format so that the two conference playoff champions would meet for the Stanley Cup. The Prince of Wales Trophy was presented to the Wales Conference playoff champions. In the summer of 1993 Wales Conference was renamed the Eastern Conference. Prince of Wales trophy has been awarded to the Eastern Conference playoff champions since the 1993-94 season.
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.
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos took the superstition to an extreme level during the 2015 playoffs. Following the Lightning's 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Stamkos refused to shake hands with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and refused to look at the trophy before posing for the obligatory photo. The Lightning also refused to pose for a team photo with the trophy.