Friday, April 9, 2010

Is the NHL Planning to Change their Trophy Names?

This article was first published in the April 9th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

At the beginning of the current NHL season, an idea began to spread through the writings of several hockey analysts; the NHL should consider changing the names of their end of season awards for individual accomplishments. The analysts argued that in doing so, it would modernize the game and attract new fans. While there is no doubt that in a league that generates a majority of its revenue from ticket sales and not high paying television contracts similar to the NFL and NBA, new fans are always a priority. However, the risk of alienating its current fan base is very real and the league should think twice before making changes.

NHL greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy brought the league to prominence in the US during the 80’s and 90’s, but are they worthy of replacing Georges Vezina, Art Ross and the immortal Conn Smythe, to name just a few of hockey’s pioneers whose names adorn the current trophies? In this ever increasing disposable society in which we live, why do some analysts believe that the game of hockey would be better served by ignoring its roots? If today’s new fans are unaware of the rich history of hockey, is it more important to educate them or cater to their ignorance?

Personally, I am still disappointed in the league for changing their conference and division names when they expanded and realigned the divisions during the 1990’s. Gone are the days of the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences, replaced by the bland and boring Eastern and Western Conferences. The glorious battles for the Adams, Patrick, Smythe and Norris Divisions have given way to the unimaginative Northeast, South, and Central and so on.

In 1893, Canada’s sixth Governor-General, Lord Stanley of Preston, donated a small trophy which cost $50 to be awarded to the champion amateur hockey club in Canada. Originally a challenge cup, meaning that any team could challenge the Champions for the title, the National Hockey Association took control of the Cup in 1910. In 1926, with the formation of the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup became the symbol of hockey supremacy in professional hockey.

When you consider the fact that Lord Stanley of Preston donated the trophy upon his retirement and subsequent return to England, and the fact that the first championship playoff did not occur until ten months after his departure from Canada, should we not consider changing the name of this trophy to “modernize” the game? Of course not – the suggestion is ludicrous and farcical. I use this example only to illustrate the need to maintain the status quo of the current individual award names. Using the same logic and arguments used in favour of changing the individual award titles, the Stanley Cup should become the “Jean Beliveau Cup” or the “Bowman Cup”, as these two men have their names on the Stanley Cup an astounding number of times.

For those looking to learn more about the history of the National Hockey League and the game of hockey, might I suggest One Hundred Years of Hockey by renowned hockey author, broadcaster and creator of Peter Puck, Brian McFarlane. Published in 1989 by Deneau Publishers, it chronicles the origins of the game, with chapters for each decade and summaries of each individual season from the very first game through to the end of the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is a book I have read many times and is filled with legendary names such as Georges Vezina, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, “Hap” Day, “Cyclone” Taylor and countless other stars from the game we all love. Perhaps I should send my well-worn copy to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to assist him in his decision making. Have a great sports day everyone.

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