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Is the Stanley Cup really the "hardest trophy to win in sports"?

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It's one of the enduring pillars of hockey myth - that winning the Stanley Cup is the hardest thing you can do in pro team sports. But is it? It's time to find out.

Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Six
The ‘hardest trophy to win’
Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Winning the Stanley Cup is, without question, one of the highest sporting achievements in the world.

Teams have to come together for a minimum of 98 games a year (82 regular season games, a minimum of 16 playoff games) and have performed well over a minimum of 5,880 minutes of hockey (and more than likely, well over 6,000) to win enough of them to be crowned the top team in hockey, one of the fastest team sports on Earth.

It's become an article of faith among hockey fans that no trophy is harder to win in all of sports. It's one of the top reasons used to deify hockey players and the sport itself among fans, as well as one of the quickest arguments to appear in any discussion among sports fans about why "their" sport is the best.

But here's the thing. Is it something based on fact? We decided to investigate in an attempt to find out just which trophy is the hardest to win in professional sports?

It started out as idle speculation, but this eventually became a mammoth task of stats analysis, weighing, comparison of sports, and internal debate. This is the result.

But first of all, in the best traditions of science, we have a few important things to get out of the way so we know exactly what we're dealing with here and the limits of our investigation.

A NOTE ON GENDER AND CHOICE OF COMPARISON

All the trophies in this investigation are competed for in male leagues. This is not meant to be a statement on the "toughness" or value of women's sport vs men's. It is not a statement that trophies in women's sports are "easier" to win than those in male competition, nor is it a deliberate exclusion of women's sport. We could just as easily have compared the Clarkson Cup with the Isobel Cup, Women's MLS and the WUCL.

However, the original question is regarding the Stanley Cup, competed for by male hockey players exclusively, and so the comparison is made with comparable competitions in other male leagues

And now, on to some ground rules.

GROUND RULES

  • We are only considering sporting achievements that receive trophies or accolades in themselves - i.e. individual competitions, due to the difference in structure between competitions and achievements in different sports. For example, we're not going to compare winning a Stanley Cup with winning, say, a Treble in football. What we ARE doing, though, is comparing season workload - which means that the number of games a team plays in order both to qualify for and in the season they win the trophy will be a factor irrespective of the competitions those games are played in. This is particularly important in the case of one competition, as you'll see later.
  • For fairness of comparison, we're only considering team sports here. There are many incredible feats of individual achievement around sports that it can be argued are harder than winning a Stanley Cup - for example, winning an Olympic gold medal or the Tour de France. It's far harder to win an elite competition individually than it is as part of a team because there's nobody else to lean on when you're competing solo. We're very much sticking to like-for-like here, otherwise we risk moving into a debate that will simply never be solved with any sort of statistical analysis.
  • We are only taking club competitions - the "hardest international trophy to win for your country" debate is a whole separate discussion.
  • We are only taking elite-level club competition here. For that purpose, we're using the NHL as the sole hockey representative - although there is a legitimate argument for including something like the Memorial Cup or even European leagues, the fact remains that the NHL is considered to be the best hockey league in the world, so for "level of competition" we need equal comparisons in respective sports. Equally, because the Memorial Cup is age-restricted and going to the NHL is considered a progression from the league it represents, we're not looking at that here.
  • This is not a "please like my sport" zone. If you're coming into this debate already deciding that hockey is the hardest sport on earth to play and aren't prepared to hear any other arguments, you're probably in the wrong place.
  • This is, as far as possible, an objective study. We're not coming in here to "prove" the SC is the hardest to win, nor to disprove it. We're simply comparing and drawing a conclusion. As the saying goes, when it comes to that conclusion, your mileage may vary.

METHODOLOGY

  • Because comparing every single elite team competition and trophy in sports is obviously impossible, we've narrowed it down to four that make broadly comparable demands of their teams. Those four competitions are - the Stanley Cup, the NBA playoffs, the World Series, and the UEFA Champions League/European Cup in soccer as the European representative. This was a subjective process, purely because these are the four competitions that are most widely considered to be the pinnacle of achievement in their sports based on the quality of competition.
  • For this study, we're looking at what it takes to win the competition, not just in the sheer number of games played, but also grueling runs of play, what you have to do to get in a position to win it in the first place, and several other factors.
  • We are only looking at seasons in which the league played what was considered by all to be a full regular season schedule, when it comes to the statistics that include them in the measure. This is important because of the NHL lockout of 2012-2013. We have purposely chosen not to include the regular season stats for the Blackhawks that year (which means in the NHL figures, all "regular season performance" averages are from 9 seasons, not 10) as that was a special case of a season. HOWEVER, we HAVE included the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 NBA season which saw a 66-game regular season sked, as that was a league-mandated change, including the full schedule.
  • Statistically, we're trying to get an idea of the trends. That means rather than looking at hypothetical competitions, we're looking at actual competitions - essentially, what every winner of each competition has had to do over the past ten years in order to win it. We're then going to average these results and figures to provide a "baseline" figure, a statistical "template for winning" if you like.
  • As much as possible, we're trying to consider how much luck plays a factor, too. Admittedly, this is an impossible thing to truly quantify, but it's generally agreed that the longer you have to be at an elite level for, the harder it is for luck to work out. It's also generally agreed that in the TRULY difficult competitions, the best will generally win it most often.

So, here we go. Game on.

THE HYPOTHESIS

The toughest trophy to win in the world is the one that requires its team be the proven best in its league, face among the most grueling schedules, compete over the longest time period, and face the toughest opposition their competition can offer unfailingly, night after night, in order to win. Therefore, the teams that win it will have the highest winning percentages, be among the very best in their leagues, and the teams will have to win the highest percentage of games in their competitions and have the narrowest margin for error. The statistics should help us see for which leagues this is the case. The trophy which has the hardest "winning template" based on the statistics will thus be the "hardest" to win.

THE FACTORS

For a trophy to be the "toughest to win" in the world, we're taking into account many factors, including the effort required to play a sport and the schedule around it, the number of games required and length of time that teams need to perform at a high level in order to win it (ie what is required to qualify for the chance to win the trophy, then what you have to do to actually win it, not just "how many wins does it take in the final"). We're also looking at the quality of the opposition you're facing and if this is diluted in any way, and where the competitors for the competition come from.

Finally, we're going to look at the games themselves, and try and get an idea of what the "elite" players do in a game. It's not perfect, due to the varying styles of play and physical demands of each sport, but we shall try.

THE NUMBERS

Let's get the raw data out of the way nice and early, shall we?

Below, for each competition, are measurements of how the winners have performed and what they've had to do to win the competition. Here's a brief explanation of each heading.

YEAR/COMPETITION WINNER - these two should be obvious.

QUALIFYING POSITION - This is the overall position in the league attained by the team in question to allow them to qualify for the actual competition itself. For all North American playoffs, it's the overall position in the league for the season in question. For the UCL, it's the position in the team's domestic league the season before. This is important, because in order to even play in the UCL in a season, you have to finish very high in your domestic league the season before - which means that the competition effectively has the previous season as the qualifying stage/equivalent of the US regular season. This will become important, for reasons you'll see shortly.

TOTAL GAMES PLAYED - This is the number of games a team plays in the course of qualifying for and then competing for the trophy in a given year. Again, for the North American leagues, it's the total number of games in a given season. For the UCL, it will be the total number of games in two seasons - the reason being that in European football, there are several domestic competitions that run concurrently with the European ones, and teams are competing in several competitions at once. Whilst not all games played will count towards a specific competition, they will all count towards the wear and tear of the players, which is why we're counting them.

GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE - This measures the ability of teams to get results in the regular season/group stages of a competition. For the NHL, it takes into account wins and OT losses. For the UCL, it will take into account wins and draws in all games for which points are awarded (league games, and UCL group games). For the MLB and NBA, we're looking at wins only.

REGULAR SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE - This measures the number of games won during the regular season. Again, for the UCL it will count not just group-stage wins, but also games won in domestic league competition both in qualifying for the UCL and in the season in question.

PLAYOFF WIN PERCENTAGE - This is the number of games won in the knockout stage of the competition. For the UCL, where knockout rounds are decided on aggregate home-and-away ties, it will measure the number of games not lost (i.e. won and drawn in the knockout stages of the year in which the competition is won).

SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE: The number of games won in the season the competition is running, out of all games played. For the UCL, this will measure the combined percentage of number of league games won in the qualifying season, and then the total percentage of games won in the season (in league competition and UCL - we're not considering domestic cup competitions as while they contribute to wear and tear, their results have no bearing on the competitions we're considering) in which the competition is won.

10-YEAR AVERAGE: This is our key measure - what everything else is leading to in this section. Essentially, we want to know what sort of numbers teams need to put up to expect to be in with a good chance of winning this competition. Whether it be where they finish in the league, their league win percentage in their regular season/qualifying competitions, and the percentage of playoff games they need to win. Essentially, this is a basic template for the baseline level of how successful a team needs to be in order to win. Based on our hypothesis, the hardest one of these to achieve should statistically be the hardest team sports trophy to win of the ones we've chosen.

So, first of all, let's look at the numbers, competition by competition.

NHL (Stanley Cup)

nhl winning comparison.csv

YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
2007 ANAHEIM DUCKS 4 103 75.6 58.5 76.1 62.1
2008 DETROIT RED WINGS 1 104 74.4 65.9 72.72 73.1
2009 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 8 106 62.2 54.9 66.7 57.5
2010 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 3 104 73.2 73.2 72.72 65.4
2011 BOSTON BRUINS 7 107 69.5 56 0.64 57.1
2012 LOS ANGELES KINGS 14 102 67.1 48.8 80 54.9
2013 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS REGULAR SEASON OMITTED FOR FAIRNESS DUE TO LOCKOUT 69.6 OMITTED DUE TO LOCKOUT
2014 LOS ANGELES KINGS 7 108 65.9 56.1 61.5 57.4
2015 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 7 105 65.9 58.5 69.6 69.6
2016 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 4 106 68.2 58.5 66.7 60.3
LAST 10 YEARS AVERAGE 6 105 69.1 58.9 63.628 61.9

NBA (Playoffs)

nba winning comparison.csv

YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
2007 SAN ANTONIO SPURS 3 102 70.7 70.7 80 72.5
2008 BOSTON CELTICS 1 108 80.5 80.5 61.5 77.3
2009 LOS ANGELES LAKERS 2 105 79.3 79.3 69.6 77.1
2010 LOS ANGELES LAKERS 3 105 69.5 69.5 69.6 69.5
2011 DALLAS MAVERICKS 5 104 69.5 69.5 72.7 69.5
2012 MIAMI HEAT 4 89 69.7 69.7 69.5 69.7
2013 MIAMI HEAT 1 105 80.5 80.5 69.6 78.1
2014 SAN ANTONIO SPURS 1 105 75.6 75.6 69.6 74.3
2015 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 1 103 81.7 81.7 76.2 79.6
2016 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS 3 103 69.5 69.5 76.2 70.9
LAST 10 YEARS AVERAGE 5 103.9 74.65 74.65 71.45 73.85

MLB (World Series)

MLB winning comparison.csv

YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
2007 BOSTON RED SOX 1 176 59.3 59.3 78.6 60.8
2008 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES 4 176 56.8 56.8 78.6 58.5
2009 NEW YORK YANKEES 1 177 63.6 63.6 73.3 64.4
2010 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS 5 177 56.8 56.8 73.3 58.2
2011 ST LOUIS CARDINALS 8 180 55.6 55.6 61.1 56.1
2012 SF GIANTS 5 178 58 58 68.8 58.9
2013 BOSTON RED SOX 1 178 59.9 59.9 68.8 60.7
2014 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS 7 178 54.3 54.3 68.8 55.6
2015 KANSAS CITY ROYALS 3 178 58.6 58.6 68.8 59.6
2016 CHICAGO CUBS 1 180 64 64 61.1 63.3
LAST 10 YEARS AVERAGE 3.6 177.8 58.69 58.69 70.12 59.61

UCL (CHAMPIONS LEAGUE)

UCL winning comparison.csv

YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
YEAR COMPETITION WINNER COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
2007 AC MILAN 3 113 81.8 70.7 85.7 62.1
2008 MANCHESTER UNITED 1 117 86.3 73.1 100 70.1
2009 BARCELONA 3 120 81.7 60.9 100 67.3
2010 INTER MILAN 1 117 89 62.1 85.7 64
2011 BARCELONA 1 120 96.3 79.3 85.7 80.7
2012 CHELSEA 1 114 65.7 41 85.7 69.7
2013 BAYERN MUNICH 2 99 87.8 73.7 100 87.2
2014 REAL MADRID 2 121 87.8 70.7 85.7 74.3
2015 BARCELONA 2 117 87.8 75.6 85.7 75.6
2016 REAL MADRID 2 111 87.8 69.5 76.8 73.08
LAST 10 YEARS AVERAGE 1.8 114.9 85.2 67.66 89.1 72.408

That's a lot of numbers to take in in one place, isn't it? But what they're all essentially doing is building a "template" of what teams must do in a season to win the competition, in terms of the number of games played on the way to winning the competition, win percentage in both qualifying and the knockout stages, and how much margin for error teams have. So here's all that data broken down into a more manageable form...what an "average" winner of each competition has to achieve as a minimum on the way to winning it, based on the last ten years' worth of play.

THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

So, below are the raw numbers. Here's what your team has to do, as a minimum, to win the top club competitions in their sports.

Template of a winner.csv

COMPETITION COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
COMPETITION COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE
NBA PLAYOFFS 5 102.9 74.65 74.65 71.45 73.85
MLB WORLD SERIES 3.6 177.8 58.69 58.69 70.12 59.61
NHL STANLEY CUP 6 105 69.1 58.9 63.628 61.9
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 1.8 114.9 85.2 67.66 89.1 72.408

This table is sorted by the percentage of games you actually need to win in a competition cycle in order to win the competition in question. You can also sort by any of the other criteria to see how the competitions rank.

Uh-oh. This is seriously bad news for the "Stanley Cup is hardest to win in sports" crowd. Here is why, summarized.

  • To win the Stanley Cup, you play the second-least games of any of the four competitions on the road to it, both in qualifying and actually competing.
  • You can lose 10% more games and still win the Stanley Cup compared to the UCL and NBA playoffs. That, over an average competition cycle, gives room for ten more losses in a season. That's a lot of off-nights and margin for error in the locker all of a sudden.
  • You can finish in the lowest position in your regular season, along with the NBA playoffs. In fact, unlike the other three competitions, you don't even have to finish in the top five in order to have a baseline hope of winning the competition. This is to be expected in a playoff system that lets over half the league go to the dance in the first place, but it means that you're less likely to be facing tough opposition all the way through.

Essentially, when you've got half the league playing, shocks happen, and being the best over a long period of time means...essentially, nothing. Compare that to the UCL, where you have to be among the very best in your domestic league just to qualify. Then, bear in mind that once you become among the very best in your OWN league, the Champions League puts you against the best of the best of every other league in Europe, which by the way, contains the vast majority of the top leagues on earth.

  • Let's assume you qualify for the competition, though - and make it through the preliminaries to the business end of the season - the elimination phase. Again, the UCL is by far the least margin for error. Because of the two-leg aggregate format, one off-night can see you bounced out of the competition (imagine if teams carried over their game-to-game goal differentials in a series: all of a sudden, that 7-0 loss Edmonton suffered vs. San Jose in the 1st round is much more damaging). In addition to that, the UCL final is a winner-take-all game from the jump: a guaranteed “Game 7”, in a sense. In all the North American leagues, sure, you have to win four of seven, but this lessens the importance of individual games and performances. One loss is just part of a larger series and has no direct carryover to the next game.
  • Then, there's the unique format of how the playoffs run. In the NHL - indeed in ALL NA sports, once the playoffs start, that's it. They're the only game in town. The playoffs don’t run concurrently with the regular season.

Not the UCL. That runs simultaneously with the regular season and as many as three other competitions in the domestic league that teams have to perform well in - especially if you want a chance to compete in the UCL again. People point out the toughness of the NHL schedule, but imagine playing a big domestic league game, then flying out to face one of the best teams in Europe on a Wednesday away from home in an elimination game. The team then flies back, and two days later, they have to play a massive potential league title decider against a domestic rival, who also happens to be one of the best teams in Europe. By the way, it's cold, dark, windy, and absolutely hammering down with rain or snow the whole week everywhere, and teams have to play outside in these conditions because this is taking place in the middle of a European winter.

All of a sudden, that West Coast swing through California in December through lovely, indoor, heated arenas with similar game conditions unaffected by adverse weather doesn't look so bad, does it? Of course, North American travel is no joke either, especially to teams out West, who usually have extended road-trips against the Eastern Conference. When the Coyotes eventually get back to the postseason, in this format, they may draw a Western Canadian team in the 1st round, which is incredibly rough (Phoenix and Edmonton are separated by around 1700 miles, for reference, so a 7-game series would involve around 7000 miles of pure flight travel).

Speaking of travel schedules, the NBA is hellacious, often seeing three road games in three different cities on three consecutive nights - in the season Miami played 99 games to win the trophy, remember that they were all played in around four months - 120 days. 100 elite-level sports games in 150 days is...well, it's a schedule built for nightmares. Or machines.

We should also bear in mind that win percentages are heavily affected by the total number of games. Remember that while the MLB percentages may look low, they play 162 regular season games, which means to take a .500 record in the MLB you have to win the same number of games as you would only losing one game (in either regulation or OT) in an entire NHL season. This is why, earlier on, we referred to a "typical competition cycle" as around 100/110 games.

A NOTE ON COMPARABLE PHYSICAL DEMANDS

At this point, I can already see a certain section of hockey fandom foaming at the mouth and ready to rip this article to shreds with a simple claim of "BUT HOCKEY PLAYERS ARE TOUGHER!"

Here's the thing. Playing a sport at a professional level requires the kind of physical and mental toughness that's simply not available to the vast majority of humans: they are the elite of elite athletes. Any argument that uses claims of "toughness" or otherwise in sports players is subjective, biased, and, essentially, a waste of time in comparisons like these. It's fairly difficult to quantify just how much more "difficult" playing 90 minutes of soccer against some of the best teams in the world is than playing 48 minutes of basketball, or taking a shift for 35 minutes of playoff hockey: these things require something different from one another, but these differences do not make a feat any more or less impressive.

But here is a thing that can be quantified - if your only argument is to claim that someone like Erik Karlsson is "tougher" than, say, Lionel Messi, when their sports demand different things of their bodies but both demand the absolute peak of human performance...then may I refer you to the beginning of this piece.

This is not a "please like my sport" zone.

This investigation is just to look at what you have to achieve as a team to win, and that's it.

WRAPPING IT UP

Let's state first of all, to be absolutely clear, just as we did at the beginning - winning the Stanley Cup is a huge achievement - it requires sacrifice, skill, and hard work of a level that very few can reach. This article is not, in any way, meant to denigrate this achievement nor claim that it's "easy". Bear in mind that we're comparing elite-level sport competitions here, and the use of "easier" or "harder" is relative.

So, what have we learned here? First of all, we've learned that to win any sporting competition, you have to be among the best in your field, but we knew that anyway. What this has shown is that, when it comes to these four competitions, the level of competition and demands made of a team when it comes to a baseline performance are higher in the NBA, and particularly the UCL than they are in the NHL, and of a broadly comparable level in the MLB.

AND NOW...THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

So. How do we decide the result? With one more table (last one, promise). To rank the competitions fairly, we have assigned a point value to each league's position in the ranking of each individual category (4 for 1st, 3 for 2nd, 2 for 3rd and 1 for 4th). Let's call them "compete points", shall we? These "compete points" will be totaled up, and each competition given a ranking based on how many points it earns.
The competition with the highest total of points is consistently the hardest based on how hard it is compared to the others in all categories, and, therefore, by definition, the toughest to win.

And here are the results. Brace yourself, hockey fans.

final ranking.csv

COMPETITION COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE POINTS
COMPETITION COMPETITION QUALIFYING POSITION TOTAL GAMES PLAYED GAME POINTS PERCENTAGE WIN PERCENTAGE (RS) WIN PERCENTAGE (PO) SEASON WIN PERCENTAGE POINTS
NBA PLAYOFFS 3rd 4th 2nd 1st 2nd 1st 16
MLB WORLD SERIES 2nd 1st 4th 4th 3rd 4th 12
NHL STANLEY CUP 4th 3rd 3rd 3rd 4th 3rd 10
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 1st 2nd 1st 2nd 1st 2nd 21

Far from winning the title of being the "hardest to win in sports" the Stanley Cup is fourth and last among the top four comparable competitions on the planet. That doesn't make it the hardest to win in sports. In fact, in North America, it makes it the easiest elite pro trophy to win - and it's comprehensively beaten by the hardest in Europe, too.

Statistically, you don't have to be as good for as long to win the Stanley Cup as you do for any of the other three titles (this is partially because of a smaller regular season slate than two of the others, as well as the loser-point bumping teams up the standings somewhat). As a team, the competition that demands the highest combination of winning ability, consistency, and execution, while giving the narrowest margin for error and consistently providing the highest level of opposition is not the Stanley Cup.

Which means, based on our initial definition of what "hardest to win" means...

That "the Stanley Cup is hardest to win in team sports" statement is a marketing myth. It may look great on the posters, and it may sound great in interviews, but it simply isn't true.

Sorry, hockey. But all those "look, soccer is for weaklings" memes may be even more wrong than you realized, especially when it comes to winning trophies. The stats are definitely in the UCL’s favor. Even the NBA & MLB leave the Stanley Cup in the dust when it comes to toughness to win.

Based on the evidence, if you want to pick the hardest trophy to win in team sports, look towards soccer, the sport that is routinely derided by hockey fans as one of the weakest in the world.

Why? Because of the UEFA Champions' League. One of the greatest football competitions on Earth, and, unlike the Stanley Cup, by far the hardest elite club trophy to win in team sports.