June 01, 2008

2005: No One Wins Stanley Cup

The year is 2005. It is the darkest year in NHL history.

The NHL season is canceled due to a labour dispute. Players and owners can not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, eventually eliminating an entire season's worth of games. The rinks remain empty, the lights remain off.

The engraving for 2004-05 records the season by reading: 2004-05 Season Not Played.

"The year off is a part of hockey history," said Phil Pritchard, curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame. "The inscription regarding 2004-05 is not only for the people of today, but for the people 50 years from now. The Stanley Cup inscriptions tell the entire story of the trophy, not an abridged version."

The lockout was controversial among many fans, some of whom questioned whether the NHL even 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 unpopular, but led to the creation of the Clarkson Cup instead.

A group of amateur hockey players took the NHL to court to determine whether somebody could actually play for the Stanley Cup. The 'Wednesday Nighters' filed a claim in Ontario Superior Court asking it to clarify the terms under which Canadian Governor-General Lord Stanley donated the Cup in 1892. The group insisted that Lord Stanley's intention when he donated the Stanley Cup was to have teams compete for the trophy every year, and a labor dispute shouldn't prevent that from happening. The case did not result in a successful challenge opportunity, but did establish that the Stanley Cup could be awarded to non-NHL teams should the league not the Stanley Cup anymore or if the league went out of business permanently.

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