Dust off the Cup and fire up the grill

Updated: May 27, 2005, 1:45 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

The Stanley Cup finals were going to start this weekend, probably between the Atlanta Thrashers and Chicago Blackhawks, and the Cup itself (or the backup facsimile thereof) would have been on glorious display in both cities.

Instead, it is going on a much-needed summer tour, starting with the Memorial Cup, which is down to its final four teams, including Sidney Crosby's.

But for the past nine months, it has mostly sat in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, doing every bit as much as Gary Bettman and the owners, and Bob Goodenow and the players, have done over the same period of time.

Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup comes out of hiding for a barbecue get-together with Lightning fans.

Just sitting around.

Too bad, too. The story would have been better if Bettman were using it as a spittoon, or if Bob Daly took it out every afternoon to help him with his putting and short game in the office, or if Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs were having the bowl sized so that Goodenow's head would fit comfortably inside.

But no, it stood still, except for a few charitable grip-and-greets here and there, doubtless wishing it could be taken for the odd fun outing – a ride on a speedboat here, a picnic there, regular vacation-type stuff. I mean, icons need fresh air, too, right?

Indeed, there is a group of Toronto lawyers with too much free time who have gone to Canadian court to wrest control of the Cup from the NHL, which actually does not own it, so it could be presented in these puck-deficient times to the winner of the Memorial Cup (Rimouski, Ottawa, London or Kelowna), the winner of the Canadian university championships (the University of Alberta, in a heroic struggle with the University of Saskatchewan), or someone else who could put the pot to better and more public use.

The league, of course, is resisting this, standing on the 1947 decision by the trustees of the Cup to turn over operational control (though not ownership) to the NHL. The divine right of kings, possession-being-nine-tenths-of-the-law and "We dare you to come in and take it from us" being the other legal claims the league is relying upon.

Besides, the league has other plans for the Cup. It's going to a barbecue in Tampa for the few Lightning fans who still remember that their team won the Cup the last time it could be won.

And then it is going to be whisked to a series of old-time players who never got to take the Cup home in their day. The practice, in fact, didn't begin until 1994 when the Rangers, celebrating their first title in 54 years – and last until 2048 – got to party with the boy until training camps resumed.

There are a lot of players who predated the Take-The-Cup-And-Show-Your-Friends tradition, so this could last a while. Plus, there is the delicious irony of Ted Lindsay, who was nearly blackballed by the NHL in the 1950s for trying to help start a players' union, getting to entertain the Cup for his 80th birthday party in Ontario.

But those lost nine months when the Cup stood stalwartly in the Hall of Fame, inspiring visitors on a daily basis ("Yes, ma'am, to get to the ladies' room, you go to the Cup display and take a left") remind us of one more thing the hockey strike robbed us of this year.

But there's more.

There was a report in Saturday's Ottawa Sun suggesting that Bettman had a drop-dead date for this latest round of pointless haggling and that if an agreement can't be hammered out by mid-June that he would cancel the coming season, as well.

Now given that the last season was canceled six or seven times before it was actually canceled, it is safe to assume that this report is either (A) silly, (B) preposterous, or (C) subject to change six or seven times.

But on the off-off-off-chance that such a thing is so, and the sides compound their already profound stupidity to galactic levels, we fret for the Cup. It is a frail old doorstop and cannot endure another nine months under glass getting a fluorescent tan and providing a shiny home for spiders and parasites that live on metal and polished wood.

In short, Ted Lindsay better show the old girl one hell of a time. Unless some people get way smarter really soon, it could be the last one she gets for another nine months.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com