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47574Free Stanley!

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  • Forever Nineteen Forty
    Mar 1, 2005
      <<Die-Hard Hockey Fans
      Try a Legal Gambit
      To Save Stanley Cup
      With NHL Season Canceled,
      Canadian Group Thinks
      Trust May Have Answer
      Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
      March 1, 2005; Page A1
      A group of hockey-mad Canadians is hoping to perform a miracle
      on ice: keeping the Stanley Cup championship alive this year.
      No matter that the National Hockey League has canceled its
      season because of a labor dispute with players. The supporters
      of the movement, which calls itself "Free Stanley," argue that
      forgoing the Stanley Cup competition would violate the terms of
      a trust arrangement created more than a century ago -- and that
      the trustees of the cup must consider awarding it to a non-NHL
      The movement has quickly gathered traction among fans. The
      freestanley.com <http://freestanley.com/> Web site, launched in
      December, has drawn thousands of e-mails and some 250,000
      visitors from around the world, including die-hard hockey lovers
      and trust scholars. The group's efforts have prompted fiery
      editorials and talk-radio rants throughout Canada.
      Even so, the chances of reviving the Stanley Cup this year are
      slim. The cup's trustees maintain that the cup won't be awarded
      this year because the NHL season was canceled in February. Under
      a 1947 agreement between the trustees and the NHL, the league
      controls the competition for the Cup. "We are very aware of the
      fans' frustration," acknowledges Bernadette Mansur, executive
      director of the NHL Foundation, which manages the trophy's
      travel schedule.
      The agitators behind Free Stanley are middle-aged Edmonton
      hockey fans who hatched a plan to save the cup last fall while
      out curling, another popular Canadian ice sport, and bemoaning
      the NHL's labor unrest. The three founders -- Tom Thurston, the
      assistant director of the Provincial Museum of Alberta; Michael
      Payne, the province's official historian; and Mark Suits, a Web
      designer -- began their crusade as something of a lark. But
      their efforts grew more serious as they delved into the cup's
      history and as more supporters came on board.
      The Free Stanley creators say that their cause is bolstered by
      the Stanley Cup's unusual history and the intricacies of
      Canadian trust law. Their argument starts with a historical
      fact: The Stanley Cup, when it was created, had absolutely
      nothing to do with the NHL.
      Instead, the championship trophy was proposed by Canada's
      governor general, Lord Stanley, in a letter read at an Ottawa
      dinner in March 1892. Soon after, Lord Stanley bought a silver
      cup for 10 guineas -- about $50 at the time, according to the
      Hockey Hall of Fame's Web site -- and named two trustees to
      oversee the annual competition for the cup.
      Lord Stanley's original vision for the cup showdown was a far
      cry from the professional game and big salaries of recent
      decades. The championship was originally designed as a challenge
      match in which top Canadian teams could vie for the cup. At the
      time, there was no NHL, just amateur teams. Lord Stanley also
      mandated that the cup be awarded "from year to year." The only
      time the cup was not awarded was in 1919, because of the deadly
      flu epidemic.
      "Our goal is to return Stanley to its roots as a challenge cup,"
      says Mr. Thurston. "Even if there's no NHL season, it doesn't
      mean there doesn't have to be a Stanley Cup playoff."
      But Mr. Thurston and his fellows are facing a big hurdle: In
      1947, the cup's trustees made a deal with the NHL, ceding
      control of the Stanley Cup to the hockey league, so long as the
      league continued to be the top professional hockey league in the
      world. Under those conditions, the cup could be given only to
      NHL teams.
      "My position is that if there is no NHL season this year, there
      is no Stanley Cup this year," says Brian O'Neill, a former NHL
      executive vice president and one of the cup's current trustees,
      along with Ian "Scotty" Morrison, formerly the NHL's head
      "The whole arrangement has evolved considerably over the years,"
      adds Mr. O'Neill. "It was once strictly for Canada. It was
      strictly for amateur hockey. It was a challenge cup where teams
      come and make challenges. It's not a challenge cup anymore, and
      I think that's something they ought to understand."
      Free Stanley's lawyer, Roderick Payne, says that trust law might
      be on his clients' side. He contends that the trustees' 1947
      agreement with the NHL is void. Under Canadian trust law, he
      argues, the trustees didn't have the authority to change the
      terms of the trust and hand over the Cup to the NHL.
      As a result, the trustees must act independently of the NHL and
      the Stanley Cup trophy should still be awarded, even if there is
      no NHL season, says Mr. Payne, a partner with Hustwick Wetsch
      Moffat & McCrae, of Edmonton. (He isn't related to Michael
      Payne, the Free Stanley co-founder.)
      Free Stanley is trying to enlist an amateur or minor-league
      hockey team to issue a formal challenge to the trustees, asking
      them to allow a cup championship this year. The group's Web site
      has step-by-step instructions for initiating a challenge.
      In the meantime, Canadian government officials have been chiming
      in on the matter. Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's current governor
      general, has said the cup series should indeed be played this
      year. She also has suggested -- to widespread controversy --
      that it might be played among women's hockey teams. Ontario's
      attorney general also launched an investigation into enforcing
      the terms of the cup's trust, but later said he didn't have the
      jurisdiction to demand that the cup be awarded.
      The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where the Stanley Cup trophy
      resides, says it has heard from hundreds of Free Stanley
      supporters demanding that the Cup series be played.
      The idea of a Stanley Cup challenge match has its share of
      detractors, too. In particular, fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning,
      which beat the Calgary Flames to claim the Stanley Cup last
      year, have written letters to the Free Stanley Web site,
      objecting to efforts to award the trophy to another team.
      One respondent, however, seemed up for the challenge: "Now, if
      you Canadians think you can get it back, get your players to
      actually play some hockey and come get it.">>
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