The Hostage Cup

December 1, 2015


By Nawel Benrabah – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In 1888, Lord Stanley was appointed Governor General of Canada and witnessed his first ever ice hockey game in Montreal. Soon after, Lord Stanley’s three sons began playing for the Ottawa Rideau Rebels, a team that toured all over Ontario with an aim to promote the “richness of the game.”

Lord Stanley was captivated by the game and had decided that the ice hockey teams of Canada needed a symbol for which they would compete. This idea was advanced and proposed in 1892 on behalf of Lord Stanley by Lord Kilcoursie. The idea was met with great approval and applause.

The Cup was purchased by Lord Stanley for the equivalent of $50 and was destined to be awarded annually to the best hockey team in Canada. Fast forward several years and Lord Stanley’s mug is under the effective control of the NHL. To be clear, the NHL does not own the trophy but rather uses it by an agreement with the Trustees of the Cup.

When Lord Stanley created the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the trophy was to be held by two Trustees who would oversee the annual tournament and award the champions “The Stanley Cup.”

During the 2005 lockout, the second time in the history of the cup where no champions were crowned, a group of recreation league hockey players from Ontario, named the “Wednesday Nighters” hired Tim Gilberts of Gilberts LLP to challenge the NHL’s exclusive control of the Stanley Cup. The matter was settled before arriving to court and was accompanied by an extensive Confidentiality Agreement. The suit was deemed moot once the NHLPA and NHL had reached this agreement with the Wednesday Nighters. But why all the secrecy?

The NHL is a business cartel composed of owners and administrators who benefit from a multibillion dollar industry dependent upon a trophy that is not theirs to possess. Of course it is in their best (economic) interest to maintain control over the information surrounding any questioning of their “right” to control the cup. Perhaps there is a conflict of interest in that the Trustees of the Cup are former NHL players and Stanley Cup Champions?

In recent years, the Cup has been awarded to the most uncanny and unexpected teams in the league, which include Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. I ask, since when do Californians or Floridians care about hockey? Since their teams won the Stanley Cup!

In 2014, the NHL signed a $4 billion broadcasting agreement with Rogers Communications for the exclusive rights to regular season and some playoffs games. During a Skype guest lecture in the Spring of 2015 with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, a student asked, “Why does the NHL continue to grow the hockey market in California?” He replied simply, “California, and especially Los Angeles is one of the largest broadcasting markets in the United States and there is a clear benefit for the league in pushing and growing the sport from the ground up.” Mr. Daly was referring to the San Jose Sharks recent addition of an American Hockey League team named the San Jose Barracuda, and the possible creation of a new western league.

The last Canadian team to be awarded the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Yes, that is 22 years ago! Montreal AAA 1893 First Stanley Cup Champions

[Right: Montreal AAA 1893, First “Stanley Cup” Champions.]

Hockey is an important historical, cultural and societal piece of Canadian identity, yet we are so passive when it comes to hockey’s most prized treasure.

The Cup contributes to the NHL’s financial growth annually all the while Canadians are not recompensed for their generosity in allowing the NHL to use their Cup. It is reported that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made $3.5 million during the 2004-05 lockout year and today his salary has tripled to approximately $7.9 million. Imagine if that kind of money was flowing through communities across Canada?

This post could very easily become a tangential dissertation about Executive Compensation however I will end by simply calling on all Canadians/Canadiens to raise their voices and demand that the NHL FREE STANLEY! LIBERER STANLEY!

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