The Stanley Cup is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America. Originally inscribed the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the trophy was donated by former Governor General of Canada Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892 as an award for Canada's top-ranking amateur ice hockey club. In 1915, the two professional ice hockey organizations, the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), reached a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other for the Stanley Cup. After a series of league mergers and folds, it became the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926. The Cup later became the de jure NHL championship prize in 1947.
After Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby and Lord Stanley of Victoria, was appointed by Queen Victoria as Governor General of Canada on June 11, 1888, he and his family became highly enthusiastic about ice hockey. Stanley was first exposed to the game at Montreal's 1889 Winter Carnival, where he saw the Montreal Victorias play the Montreal Hockey Club. The Montreal Gazette reported that he "expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players". During that time, organized ice hockey in Canada was still in its infancy and only Montreal and Ottawa had anything resembling leagues.
Lord Walter Stanley's entire family became active in ice hockey. Two of his sons, Arthur and Algernon, formed a new team called the Ottawa Rideau Rebels. Arthur also played a key role in the formation of what later became known as the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), and would go on to be the founder of ice hockey in Great Britain. Arthur and Algernon persuaded their father to donate a trophy to be "an outward and visible sign of the hockey championship". Lord Stanley sent the following message to the victory celebration held on March 18, 1892 at Ottawa's Russell Hotel for the three-time champion Ottawa Hockey Club:
I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion (of Canada).Soon afterwards, Lord Stanley purchased a decorative bowl, forged in Sheffield, England by London silversmith G.R. Collis and Company (now Boodles and Dunthorne Jewelers), for ten guineas (ten and a half pounds sterling, or $48.67 USD at that time). He had the words "Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup" engraved on one side of the outside rim, and "From Stanley of Preston" on the other side.
There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.
I am not quite certain that the present regulations governing the arrangement of matches give entire satisfaction, and it would be worth considering whether they could not be arranged so that each team would play once at home and once at the place where their opponents hail from.
Originally, Lord Stanley intended that the Cup should be awarded to the top amateur hockey team in Canada, to be decided by the acceptance of a challenge from another team. He made five preliminary regulations:
- The winners shall return the Cup in good order when required by the trustees so that it may be handed over to any other team which may win it.
- Each winning team, at its own expense, may have the club name and year engraved on a silver ring fitted on the Cup.
- The Cup shall remain a challenge cup, and should not become the property of one team, even if won more than once.
- The trustees shall maintain absolute authority in all situations or disputes over the winner of the Cup.
- If one of the existing trustees resigns or drops out, the remaining trustee shall nominate a substitute.
Lord Stanley appointed Sheriff John Sweetland and Philip D. Ross (who would serve in his post an unsurpassed 57 years) as trustees of the Cup. Sweetland and Ross first presented the trophy in 1893 to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, the champions of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC), since they "defeated all comers during the late season, including the champions of the Ontario Association (the Ottawa Generals)". Sweetland and Ross also believed that the AHAC was the top league, and as first place finishers in the AHAC, Montreal was the best team in Canada. Naturally, the Ottawa Generals were upset by the decision because there had been no challenge games scheduled and because the trustees failed to convey the rules on how the Cup was to be awarded prior to the start of the season.
As a result, the Cup trustees issued more specific rules on how the trophy should be defended and awarded:
- The Cup is automatically awarded to the team that wins the title of the previous Cup champion's league, without the need for any other special extra contest.
- Challengers for the Cup must be from senior hockey associations, and must have won their league championship. Challengers will be recognized in the order in which their request is received.
- The challenge games (where the Cup could change leagues) are to be decided either in a one-game affair, a two-game total goals affair, or a best of three series, to the benefit of both teams involved. All matches would take place on the home ice of the champions, although specific dates and times would have to be approved by the trustees.
- Ticket receipts from the challenge games are to be split equally between both teams.
- If the two competing clubs cannot agree to a referee, the trustees will appoint one, and the two teams shall cover the expenses equally. If the two competing clubs cannot agree on other officials, the referee will appoint them, and the two clubs shall also pay the expenses equally
- A league could not challenge for the Cup twice in one season.
Lord Stanley never saw a Stanley Cup championship game, nor did he ever present the Cup. Although his term as Governor General ended in September 1893, he was forced to return to England on July 15. In April of that year, his elder brother Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby died, and Stanley succeeded him as the 16th Earl of Derby.
During the challenge cup period, none of the leagues that played for the trophy had a formal playoff system to decide their respective champions; whichever team finished in first place after the regular season won the league title. However, in 1894, four teams out of the five-team AHAC tied for the championship with records of 5–3–0. The AHAC had no tie-breaking system. After extensive negotiations and Quebec's withdrawal from the championship competition, it was decided that a three-team tournament would take place in Montreal, with the Ottawa team receiving a bye to the finals because they were the only road team. On March 17, in the first ever Stanley Cup playoff game, the Montreal Hockey Club (Montreal HC) defeated the Montreal Victorias, 3–2. Five days later, in the first Stanley Cup Final game, Montreal HC beat the Ottawa Generals, 3–1.
In 1895, Queen's University was the first official challenger for the Cup, although it was controversial. The Montreal Victorias had won the league title and thus the Stanley Cup, but the challenge match was between the previous year's champion, Montreal HC, and the university squad. The trustees decided that if the Montreal HC won the challenge match, the Victorias would become the Stanley Cup champions. The Montreal HC won the match 5–1 and their cross-town rivals were crowned the champions. The first successful challenge to the Cup came the next year by the Winnipeg Victorias, the champions of the Manitoba Hockey League. On February 14, 1896, the Winnipeg squad defeated the champions 2–0 and became the first team outside the AHAC to win the Cup.
As the prestige of winning the Cup grew, so did the need to attract top players. Only nine months after winning the Cup, in March 1906, the Montreal Wanderers pushed through a resolution at the annual meeting of the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA) that would allow professional players to play alongside amateurs. Because the ECAHA was the top hockey league in Canada at the time, the Cup trustees agreed to open the challenges to professional teams. The first professional competition came one month later during the Wanderers' two-game, total goals challenge series, which they won 17 goals to 5.
The smallest municipality to produce a Stanley Cup champion team is Kenora, Ontario; the town had a population of about 4,000 when the Kenora Thistles captured the Cup in January 1907. Aided by future Hall of Famers Art Ross and "Bad" Joe Hall, the Thistles defeated the Montreal Wanderers in a two-game, total goals challenge series. The Thistles successfully defended the Cup once, against a team from Brandon, Manitoba. In March 1907, the Wanderers challenged the Thistles to a rematch. Despite an improved lineup, the Thistles lost the Cup to Montreal.
In 1908, the Allan Cup was introduced as the trophy for Canada's amateurs, and the Stanley Cup started to become a symbol of professional hockey supremacy. In that same year, the first all-professional team, the Toronto Trolley Leaguers from the newly created Ontario Professional Hockey League (OPHL), competed for the Cup. One year later, the Montreal HC and the Montreal Victorias, the two remaining amateur teams, left the ECAHA, and the ECAHA dropped "Amateur" from their name to become a professional league. In 1910, the National Hockey Association (NHA) was formed. The NHA soon proved it was the best in Canada, as it kept the Cup for the next four years.
Prior to 1912, challenges could take place at any time, given the appropriate rink conditions, and it was common for teams to defend the Cup numerous times during the year. In 1912, Cup trustees declared that it was only to be defended at the end of the champion team's regular season.
One year later, the NHA and the PCHA concluded a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other for the Cup, similar to baseball's World Series, which is played between the American League and National League champions. Under the new proposal, the Stanley Cup Final series alternated between the East and the West each year, with alternating games played according to NHA and PCHA rules. The Cup trustees agreed to this new arrangement, because after the Allan Cup became the highest prize for amateur hockey teams in Canada, the trustees had become dependent on the top two professional leagues to bolster the prominence of the trophy. The PCHA's Vancouver Millionaires won the first "formal" PCHA-NHA Cup Final, three games to zero in a best-of-five series.
After the Portland Rosebuds, an American-based team, joined the PCHA in 1914, the trustees issued a statement that the Cup was no longer for the best team in Canada, but now for the best team in the world. Two years later, the Rosebuds became the first American team to play in the Stanley Cup Final. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans became the first American team to win the Cup. After that season, the NHA dissolved, and the National Hockey League (NHL) took its place.
In 1919, the Spanish influenza epidemic forced the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans to cancel their series, marking the first time the Stanley Cup was not awarded. The series was tied at 2–2–1, but the final game was never played because Montreal Manager George Kennedy and players Joe Hall, Billy Coutu, Jack McDonald, and Newsy Lalonde were hospitalized with influenza. Hall died four days after the canceled game, and the series was abandoned.
The format for the Stanley Cup Finals changed in 1922, with the creation of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). Three leagues competed for the Cup: two league champions faced each other for the right to challenge the third champion in the final series. This lasted three seasons as the PCHA and the WCHL later merged to form the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 1924. After winning in the 1924–25 season, the Victoria Cougars became the last team outside the NHL to win the Stanley Cup.
The WHL folded in 1926, leaving the NHL as the only league left competing for the Cup. Other leagues and clubs occasionally issued challenges, but from that year forward, no non-NHL team played for it, leading it to become the de facto championship trophy of the NHL. In 1947, the NHL reached an agreement with trustees P.D. Ross and Cooper Smeaton to grant control of the cup to the NHL, allowing the league to reject challenges from other leagues that may have wished to play for the Cup.
This agreement was amended on November 22, 1961, substituting the Governors of the International Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ontario with the Committee of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario as the group that would name the two Canadian trustees, if need be. In the 1970s, the World Hockey Association sought to challenge for the Cup. The Trustees denied them the opportunity to do so.
- The Trustees hereby delegate to the League full authority to determine and amend from time to time the conditions for competition of the Stanley Cup, including the qualifications of challengers, the appointment of officials, the apportionment and distribution of all gate receipts, provided always that the winners of this trophy shall be the acknowledged World's Professional Hockey Champions.
- The Trustees agree that during the currency of this agreement they will not acknowledge or accept any challenge for the Stanley Cup unless such a challenge is in conformity with the condition specified in paragraph one (1) thereof.
- The League undertakes the responsibility for the care and safe custody of the Stanley Cup including all necessary repairs and alterations to the cup and sub-structure as may be required from time to time, and further undertakes to insure the Stanley Cup for its full insurable value.
- The League hereby acknowledges itself to be bound to the Trustees in the sum of One Thousand Dollars, which bond is conditioned upon the safe return of the Stanley Cup to the Trustees in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, and it is agreed that the League shall have the right to return the trophy to the Trustees at any time.
- This agreement shall remain in force so long as the League continues to be the world's leading professional hockey league as determined by its playing caliber, and in the event of dissolution or other termination of the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup shall revert to the custody of the trustees.
- In the event of default in the appointment of a new trustee by the surviving trustee, the "Trustees" hereby delegate and appoint the Governors of the International Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ontario, to name two Canadian trustees to carry on under the terms of the original trust, and in conformity with this Agreement.
- And it is further mutually agreed that any disputes arising as to the interpretation of this Agreement or the facts upon which such interpretation is made, shall be settled by an Arbitration Board of three, one member to be appointed by each of the parties, and the third to be selected by the two appointees. The decision of the Arbitration Board shall be final.
The Cup was awarded every year until 2005, when a labour dispute between the NHL's owners and the NHL Players Association (the union that represents the players) led to the cancellation of the 2004–05 season. As a result, no Cup champion was crowned for the first time since the flu pandemic in 1919. The lockout was controversial among many fans, who questioned whether the NHL had exclusive control over the Cup. A website known as freestanley.com (since closed) was launched, asking fans to write to the Cup trustees and urge them to return to the original Challenge Cup format. Adrienne Clarkson, then Governor General of Canada, alternately proposed that the Cup be presented to the top women's hockey team in lieu of the NHL season. This idea was so unpopular that the Clarkson Cup was created instead. Meanwhile, a group in Ontario, also known as the "Wednesday Nighters", filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court, claiming that the Cup trustees had overstepped their bounds in signing the 1947 agreement with the NHL, and therefore must award the trophy regardless of the lockout.
On February 7, 2006, a settlement was reached in which the trophy could be awarded to non-NHL teams should the league not operate for a season. The dispute lasted so long that, by the time it was settled, the NHL had resumed operating for the 2005-06 season, and the Stanley Cup went unclaimed for the 2004-05 season.
Like the Grey Cup, awarded to the winner of the Canadian Football League, the Stanley Cup is engraved with the names of the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff. The Stanley Cup is the only trophy in professional sports that has names engraved upon its chalice as well as its rings and base. However, this was not always the case: one of Lord Stanley's original conditions was that each team could, at their own expense, add a ring to the Cup to commemorate their victory. Initially, there was only one base ring, which was attached to the bottom of the original bowl by the Montreal AAAs. Clubs engraved their team names, usually in the form "TEAM NAME" "YEAR WON", on that one ring until it was full in 1902. With no more room to engrave their names (and unwilling to pay for a second band), teams left their mark on the bowl itself. The 1907 Montreal Wanderers became the first club to record their name on the bowl's interior surface, and the first champion to record the name of every member of their team.
In 1908, for reasons unknown, the Wanderers, despite having turned aside four challengers, did not record their names on the Cup. The next year, the Ottawa Senators added a second band onto the Cup. Despite the new room, the 1910 Wanderers and the 1911 Senators did not put their names on the Cup. The 1915 Vancouver Millionaires became the second team to engrave players' names, this time inside the bowl along its sides.
The 1918 Millionaires eventually filled the band added by the 1909 Senators. The 1915 Ottawa Senators, the 1916 Portland Rosebuds, and the 1918 Vancouver Millionaires all engraved their names on the trophy even though they did not officially win it under the new PCHA-NHA system. They had only won the title of the previous champion's league and would have been crowned as Cup champions under the old challenge rules.
No further engraving occurred until 1924, when the Canadiens added a new band to the Cup. Since then, engraving the team and its players has been an unbroken annual tradition. Originally, a new band was added each year, causing the trophy to grow in size. The "Stovepipe Cup", as it was nicknamed because of its resemblance to the exhaust pipe of a stove, became unwieldy, so it was redesigned in 1948 as a two-piece cigar-shaped trophy with a removable bowl and collar. This Cup also properly honoured those teams that did not engrave their names on the Cup.
Since 1958, the Cup has undergone several minor alterations. The original collar and bowl were too brittle, and were replaced in 1963 and 1969, respectively. The modern one-piece Cup design was introduced in 1958, when the old barrel was replaced with a five-band barrel, each of which could contain 13 winning teams. Although the bands were originally designed to fill up during the Cup's centennial year, the names of the 1965 Montreal Canadiens were engraved over a larger area than allotted and thus there are 12 teams on that band instead of 13. When the bands were all filled in 1991, the top band of the large barrel was preserved in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a new blank band was added to the bottom so the Stanley Cup would not grow further.
Another new band was scheduled to be added to the bottom of the cup following the 2004–05 season, but was not added because of the labour dispute. After the 2005–06 champion Carolina Hurricanes were crowned, and the new bottom ring was finally added, the canceled season was acknowledged with the words "2004–05 Season Not Played". Currently, the Cup stands at 89.5 centimeters (35¼ inches) tall and weighs 15½ kilograms (34½ lb).
Currently, in order to have one's name inscribed on the Cup, a player must have played at least 41 games for the championship team during the regular season (provided the player remains with the team when they win the Cup) or at least played in one game of the Finals. However, the NHL will also consider other reasons on a case-by-case basis. Vladimir Konstantinov, whose career ended after a car accident on June 13, 1997, had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup after Detroit defended their title in 1998. The Detroit Red Wings received special permission from the NHL to do so.
Twelve women have had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. The first woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup is Marguerite Norris, who won the Cup as the President of the Detroit Red Wings in 1954 and 1955. The only Canadian woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup is Sonia Scurfield (born in Hafford, Saskatchewan) who won the Cup as a co-owner of the Calgary Flames in 1989.
The Senior Director of Hockey Administration Charlotte Grahame's name was added in 2001 when the Colorado Avalanche won. Charlotte's son John later had his name engraved as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, making them the only mother-son combination to win the Stanley Cup.
The authenticated version or "Presentation Cup" was created in 1963 by Montreal silversmith Carl Petersen. It is authenticated by the seal of the Hockey Hall of Fame on the bottom of the Cup, which can be seen when winning players lift the Cup over their heads, and it is the one currently awarded to the champions of the playoffs and used for promotions. This version was made in secret, and its production was only revealed three years later.
The replica trophy, called the Replica Cup, was created in 1993 by Montreal silversmith Louise St. Jacques to be used as a stand-in whenever the Presentation Cup is not available at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 2007, the Stanley Cup made its first trip into a combat zone. During the trip to Kandahar Afghanistan from May 2 to May 6, organized by the NHL, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the NHL Alumni and the Department of National Defence, the Cup was put on display for Canadian and other NATO troops. It briefly came under missile attack on May 3, but emerged unscathed.
The Stanley Cup did a second tour in Afghanistan as part of a "Team Canada visit" in March 2008.
There are many traditions associated with the Stanley Cup. One of the oldest, started by the 1896 Winnipeg Victorias, dictates that the winning team drink champagne from the top bowl after their victory. The Cup is also traditionally presented on the ice to the captain of the winning team after the series-winning game; each member of the victorious club carries the trophy around the rink. However, this has not always been the case; prior to the 1930s, the Cup was not awarded immediately after the victory. The first time that the Cup was awarded on the ice may have been to the 1932 Toronto Maple Leafs, but the practice did not become a tradition until the 1950s. Ted Lindsay of the 1950 Cup champion Detroit Red Wings became the first captain, upon receiving the Cup, to hoist it overhead and skate around the rink. Since then, it has been a tradition for each member of the winning team, beginning with the captain, to take a lap around the ice with the trophy hoisted above his head. This was slightly breached by Joe Sakic and Ray Bourque when the Colorado Avalanche won the Cup in 2001. Bourque had, until requesting a trade on March 6, 2000, only ever played for the Boston Bruins. The seventh game of the 2001 Finals was the last of Bourque's 22-year NHL career, having never been on a Cup-winning team until that time. When Sakic received the trophy, he did not hoist it, but instead immediately handed it to Bourque. Sakic then followed Bourque in hoisting the trophy. Another notable exception was in 1998, after the Detroit Red Wings had defeated the Washington Capitals to win the Stanley Cup. Red Wing captain Steve Yzerman was presented the cup by Commissioner Gary Bettman and immediately passed it to Vladimir Konstantinov, who had been seriously injured in a limo accident the previous year and had to be wheeled on the ice. Usually, the captain is the first member of the team to hoist the Cup. In reverence for the Cup, NHL players will not touch it until they hoist it after winning the playoffs.
Although many players have unofficially spent a day in personal possession of the Cup, in 1995 a tradition started wherein each member of the Cup-winning team is allowed to retain the Cup for a day. It is always accompanied by at least one representative from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Victors of the Cup have used it to baptize their children. Two players (the New York Islanders' Clark Gillies and the Anaheim Ducks' Sean O'Donnell) even allowed their dogs to eat out of the Cup.