The NHL lockout is nearing its third month with the prospects of a season dwindling, but some say there's no reason Canadians have to go without a chance to see the Stanley Cup awarded this year.
Since Canada's then Gov. Gen. Lord Stanley of Preston awarded the Cup to the people of Canada in 1893, it has been the definitive symbol of hockey greatness.
Since 1926, it has been exclusively awarded to the NHL team that wins the playoffs each season. But as a landmark 2006 court decision made clear, there's no reason that has to be the case.
The Cup's charter says it "shall be awarded yearly to the best team in the Dominion," but in fact, it is managed by two trustees, who have always decided to award it to the NHL's playoff champion.
Toronto lawyer Tim Gilbert won that court case on behalf of some recreational hockey players, who didn't appreciate that the NHL seemed to be holding the Cup hostage during the league's last lockout in 2004.
"The attitude of the trustees was that the NHL owned the Cup," he told CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange recently. "That raised the ire of fans.
"It is owned by the trustees for the benefit of hockey — for the benefit of everyone, generally — and that point was forcefully made by way of a lawsuit," Gilbert said.
The outcome of the landmark ruling was that the trustees and the league were forced to admit that the NHL does not, in fact, own the Stanley Cup after all. So it could theoretically return to its roots as a challenge trophy in any season where an NHL champion isn't crowned — as may end up being the case this season.
"The agreement they signed said they can, they may," Gilbert noted.
2 Cup trustees may not be onboard
There's no indication that's a likely development, however. The Cup trustees, Ian (Scotty) Morrison and Brian O'Neill — NHL loyalists with decades of professional hockey experience between them — haven't expressed any sort of desire to award the Cup to a non-NHL team.
As Gilbert's case established, they have the right to do so. But there doesn't seem to be the will.
That's the case with other influential people, too.
In 2004, Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson caused a ruckus by suggesting that, in the absence of NHL games during the lockout that year, the Stanley Cup should be awarded to the best women's team in the country.
Policymakers quickly backed away from that idea, and Gilbert suggests the two highest-ranking hockey fans in Canada — Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston — are unlikely to want to wade into the debate this time, barring a major show of support for the idea
"If any Canadians have a good idea, I would suggest they would write to the trustees, and … decide what's best for the good of the game," Gilbert says.
Watch the complete interview with Gilbert above or click here to watch it in a new window.