The tradition of engraving the names of each year's NHL champion is one of the unique quirks that makes the Stanley Cup so special. Unfortunately, as more champions are crowned, some of the most important names to ever play the game will no longer have a place on the Cup.
Every spring when a new team hoists the title, players from the winning club get their individual names engraved on the silver Cup. To have their names enshrined alongside past legends is truly one of the most memorable things that can happen to a hockey player. But, as time goes on, some of these names will disappear from the trophy forever.
Every 11 to 13 years, the bottom ring on the base of the Stanley Cup is removed to make room for the next batch of champs. The last time it happened was after Carolina won in 2006, when names like Turk Broda and Syl Apps were removed along with the band listing the Toronto Maple Leafs teams that won four Cups in five years in the 1940s. It was also the last of Conn Smythe, though his name is now immortalized through the playoff MVP trophy.
Pittsburgh's Cup win this year will occupy the trophy's final open space, meaning that when a new champion is crowned at the end of next season, a ring containing the names of the legendary Gordie Howe and Maurice Rocket Richard, widely considered two of the greatest to ever play, will be removed from the Cup and retired into the vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It seems tragic and almost blasphemous from the outside looking in, but Adam Kirshenblatt, a hockey historian and Stanley Cup expert, believes this process is just part of the changing character of the Cup and a big reason why the trophy is so unique.
"It's like all the spelling mistakes that are on the Cup, people love that even though it's wrong. Assuming the band is removed every 13 years, a player is essentially on the Cup for about 65 years. That's a lifetime for these guys," he told VICE Sports.
There is a cycle-of-life type mentality toward the Stanley Cup that no one is immune to. Though it's a couple decades away, next to be removed will be the early 70s era with Bobby Orr's name engraved on it, followed by Wayne Gretzky's Oilers. Yep, the guy literally named "The Great One" will no longer have his name inscribed on the greatest trophy in sports. Most seem to just accept how it is, but many have also found it hard to mask their sorrow.
"Back in 2006, Andy Bathgate expressed his disappointment when he was told about it. That's been the general feeling amongst former players, not necessarily backlash or outrage, just disappointment," Kirshenblatt said.
Along with Howe and Richard, other legends such as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilot, and Bernie Geoffrion will fall victim to the removal cycle next spring, and some legendary team feats will no longer have a home on the Cup, either.
"The five Cup wins in a row by Montreal from 1956-60 will be coming off. That is the only time in Stanley Cup history that anyone has won five in a row," said Kirshenblatt, adding that "three of the remaining four Maple Leaf teams will be coming off, leaving 1967 [the Leafs' last Cup victory] as the last of the glory days. They still have at least 14 years to worry about them falling off completely."
It's too late to save Mr. Hockey and The Rocket from having their names erased from the Cup, and there hasn't been much discussion on changing anything before Orr and Gretzky get removed, either. Enlarging the trophy isn't an option and neither is creating a second one. So for the foreseeable future, this is just how it goes.
All rings removed from the Cup are placed in a vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame and a celebratory ceremony is held, giving those involved, some of the greatest players to ever play the game, one final tribute.
The Stanley Cup truly is one of a kind.