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Should the NHL Lose the Stanley Cup During a Strike or Lockout?

History suggests Stanley Cup should not be idle just because the NHL is.


Ottawa Senators hockey club in 1906

The Ottawa Senators pose with the Stanley Cup in this postcard photo, circa 1906. The Senators were a Stanley Cup dynasty long before the NHL existed.

Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893, 24 years before the National Hockey League was born.

The Cup didn't need the NHL back then, and many believe it doesn't need the NHL today.

Trevor J. Adams is the author of "Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup."

The book tells a story that goes back to one of the more fascinating eras of hockey history, the pre-NHL years.

Though the NHL later acquired exclusive rights to Cup, Adams says those rights should be forfeited when the league shuts down due to a strike or lockout.

“The deal was never that the NHL could just sit on the Stanley Cup and decline to award it,” he says.

We asked Trevor J. Adams to make the case for an independent Stanley Cup.

Is it just a neat idea, or can you make a solid argument for taking the Stanley Cup from the NHL and allowing other teams to compete for it?

Well, the Stanley Cup existed for a long time before the NHL. From 1893 to 1914 it was a challenge cup. The NHL acquired sole possession of the Cup more or less by default as the other competing leagues went defunct.

It wasn't until 1947 the NHL actually took legal responsibility of the Stanley Cup in a deal that said, in part: "This agreement shall remain in force so long as the League continues to be the world's leading professional hockey league as determined by its playing caliber, and in the event of dissolution or other termination of the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup shall revert to the custody of the trustees."

So allowing other leagues to compete for the Stanley Cup would actually be a return to its roots. And as long as the NHL isn't playing, it's hard to make a case that it's world's leading professional hockey league.

Who are the Stanley Cup trustees, and how did they get the job?

The original trustees appointed by Lord Stanley were an Ottawa sheriff named John Sweetland and journalist Phillip D. Ross. When the NHL took over in 1947, the trustee role went to the Governors of the Hockey Hall of Fame. If they determined the NHL defaulted in its responsibilities to the Stanley Cup, they would name two Canadian trustees to resume control of it. The NHL would probably respond to that with a vigorous legal defense.

Your book recalls a time when the Stanley Cup was a "challenge" cup. For those who don't know the history, can you explain how that worked and give us an example?

Each season, the trustees would review challenges from various league champions around Canada. They'd pick one or two teams that seemed likely to offer the champions a good challenge, and set a series for either the start of the season in December, or the end of the season in March/April.

In some seasons, there were two challengers, but as time went on, challenges were held only at the end of the season.

A good example of how the challenge system worked was the 1912 season.

The Quebec Bulldogs won the Stanley Cup by winning the National Hockey Association's regular season. (The league's defending champion, Ottawa, had held the Cup.)

The trustees received challenges from the Maritime champions, Moncton, and the Pacific Coast champions, Port Arthur. Trustees accepted the Maritime challenger, and Quebec went on to defend the Stanley Cup, just days after winning it, in a two-game series.

What would be a good alternative if the NHL stays dark all season? Who should compete for the 2013 Stanley Cup?

Contrary to what the NHL would have people believe, there are many other major professional hockey leagues, including several in Europe. With the NHL locking out its players, one can argue that Russia's KHL is actually the world's top hockey league today.

Following up on the theme of your book, can you imagine how the "challenge" system could be revived in 2013? Is there a way to give the true long shots a chance to raise the Cup?

If the NHL isn't competing this season, maybe those champions should have a chance to play in a champions-league style tournament. That would certainly be closer to what the original trustees intended than to have the Cup unawarded while millionaires bicker amongst themselves.

So something like a season-ending tournament between the new champions of the KHL, AHL, Swiss league, Sweden, Finland... that sort of thing?

Yeah, that's what I have in mind.

Just off the top of my head, I think the KHL and AHL, along with the Swiss, Swedish, German, and Finnish leagues could probably combine to create some very interesting competition.

I know some hockey fans would be appalled at the idea of the Stanley Cup going to one of those teams, but I maintain that it's better the Cup be played for than sit in a vault until the NHL's millionaires sort out their differences.

If the NHL returns, and offers the world's best hockey as it has in the past, then certainly the Cup should go back to it.

At the very least, would talk of such a tournament put much-needed pressure on the NHL to settle its labor issues?

I would think it would, probably quite quickly, although that's not really the impetus for me. Ultimately, it's about what's right, what's fair and the original spirit of the Stanley Cup.

Trevor J. Adams is the author of "Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup," published by Nimbus Publishing.

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