The Stanley Cup is bigger than the National Hockey League.
At least we like to think that it is, because the notion of a championship trophy existing independent of its League adds to the mysticism of it. If the NHL is crushed, the Stanley Cup isn't scrapped. If the NHL burns, the Stanley Cup isn't tarnished. After the zombie apocalypse, all they'll find are cockroaches, Twinkies and Hockey's Holy Grail.
So while the NHL uses its own foot for target practice and locks out its players, there's prominent talk about the Stanley Cup being extradited from the League and given back to the people — just like there was seven years ago.
During the 2004-05 lockout, the "Wednesday Nighters" pickup league in Ontario made international headlines when it took the NHL to court in order to determine — in "Slap Shot" parlance — "Who Own Da Cup?"
They claimed Lord Stanley, upon donating the Cup to Canada in 1892, intended for it to be handed out every year. (The NHL took over the Cup's exclusivity in 1947.) With the season cancelled, the beer league players argued that the Cup's trustees should be forced to allow non-NHL teams to compete for it.
The case eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, with an important clarification: Yes, in fact, the Stanley Cup's trustees can award it outside of the NHL should the League cancel its season. From the settlement, via MacLeans:
"Nothing therein precludes the Trustees from exercising their power to award the Stanley Cup to a non-NHL team in any year in which the NHL fails to organize a competition to determine a Stanley Cup winner."
In 2012, with another season on the brink, writers like Colby Cosh of MacLeans and Chris Selley of the National Post have devised ways for the Stanley Cup to be awarded even if there is no Stanley Cup Final in June 2013. From Selley:
For it to have a chance, we need to start beating the drums now. Parliament will likely need to get involved, as Cosh says. If we have to send the Army into the Hockey Hall of Fame to grab the thing, then so be it. It'll dovetail nicely with the War of 1812 commemorations.
Reclaiming the Stanley Cup would be a wonderful bit of fan defiance and exhibition of power.
Alas, it's not going to happen, according to the Chalice's trustees a.k.a. party-poopers.
The settlement in 2006 with the Wednesday Nighters reaffirmed that the Cup could be awarded to a non-NHL team in the event that the season was cancelled. But as Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post wrote on Wednesday, that doesn't translate into an obligation:
"We kind of felt that, given [the NHL] acknowledged that there's a trust, and the trustees are the ones who have responsibility to administer the trust, we can't bind their hands and tell them exactly what to do," said Toronto-based lawyer Tim Gilbert, who led the case for the recreational players. "But they have to exercise their duties in the best interests of the original purpose of the trust, which was to promote hockey."
So what if the current NHL lockout scuttles the entire season?
"If there's no season, well, it's just one of those years, as we did before, where there was no trophy presented," Cup trustee Brian O'Neill said. "It's still an NHL trophy."
"The chances of both Brian and I agreeing that it should go to any group that plays for it, I wouldn't hold your breath," said fellow trustee Ian (Scotty) Morrison, who also serves on the board for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So Brian O'Neill and Ian (Scotty) Morrison, former NHL vice presidents, are the ones keeping your beer league from competing for the Stanley Cup, should the NHL decide to fornicate with a canine and cancel the 2012-13 season.
Colby Cosh made a plea to them in August, hoping to liberate the Cup:
Although they have worked for the National Hockey League for most of their adult lives, they must not allow the bargaining position of the NHL to determine what they do with the Stanley Cup; they must do what is right for Canada. It is not likely to be natural for them. We have all been encouraged to think of the NHL as substantially equivalent to and interchangeable with the game of hockey. That the right thing to do with respect to the Cup may not be the best thing for the owners of the NHL's clubs is not as obvious as it should be, even to you and me.
So they need some convincing.
Find them. Suck up to them. Impart to them fine silks and expensive cognac and only the finest escorts in Ontario. For they are the ones that control the Cup; and he who controls the Cup … well, probably plays for an American NHL franchise, based on the last 19 years. (Sad trombone, Canada.)