Just when you thought buffoonish management in sports was limited to Major League Baseball and its woeful tinkering with the game, along comes the National Hockey League to prove that stupidity is an equal opportunity condition.
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin this week, a fierce fight for the venerable old mug that is beloved by hockey players and fans everywhere. The Cup, donated by Lord Stanley well over a century ago, is unique, partly because of its age and partly because of the tradition of it displaying the name of every player on every team to ever win it.
There are a lot of Cup winners dating back to before the start of the 21st century and to accommodate the crowd, old names, familiar names, iconic names are periodically removed from the top heavy old mug and replaced with new ones.
So soon, when you examine the Cup, you won’t find Gordie Howe’s name. The same goes for Maurice Richard. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens dynasties of the 1950s and ‘60s are going to be deleted from the Cup in the interest of space.
This amounts to nothing short of blasphemy.
To a generation of hockey fans, those players were the best of the game, leaders of teams that ruled the sport, foundations of the game. Howe’s Red Wings won four Stanley Cups, and Richard’s Canadiens won five in a row. They were hockey royalty and soon, as far as hockey’s treasured chalice is concerned, they will become invisible.
The explanation offered by the NHL is that the Cup has become too big. It has grown from a seven-inch trophy that Lord Stanley contributed in 1892 , to three feet tall. The league likes to travel the mug, display it so that fans can see it up close. That’s an admirable idea but to manage that size, rings of names of players who won it are periodically removed to make room for new ones. Already gone are the teams that won it before 1953. Now, Howe and Richard will disappear this year, members of Cup winners from 1954-65.
Oh, sure, Howe and Richard and plenty of their teammates are honored in the hockey Hall of Fame and that’s fitting. But their names belong engraved on that Cup. The solution is simple. If the people who run the game had any common sense, they would leave the Cup permanently on display in Toronto at the Hall of Fame and award facsimile hardware to teams instead of lugging the fragile old one around every year from rink to rink. That system works for baseball and football. Why not hockey?
Instead, they choose to eliminate teams and players from the Cup, those who built the sport, who dominated it when it was a six-team league in the days before it became an unwieldy size with 31 franchises.
You want to know what is top heavy in hockey? It’s not the Stanley Cup, it’s the size of the league that awards it every spring.