Ask anyone who’s ever won the Stanley Cup and he’ll tell you one of the most enduring memories of the experience is the opportunity to have the most beautiful trophy in sports for a day and share it with the people most important in his life. And after winning the most unique – and challenging - championship in NHL history in September, the Tampa Bay Lightning will almost certainly be deprived of that opportunity in 2020.
With uncertainty over when next season is going to start and concerns about plummeting ratings and revenues, the off-season Stanley Cup tour isn’t exactly uppermost on the league’s list of priorities at the moment. Even though nothing has been decided yet, members of the Lightning have been privately told not to count on having their traditional day with the Cup this year.
All we do know about the Stanley Cup at the moment is that it’s in Montreal in the capable hands of Louise St-Jacques, who is engraving the names of the 52 members of the Lightning organization on the bottom rim of the bowl. That gives the NHL time to come up with a strategy for the Cup for the off-season. After the Lightning won the Cup in Edmonton the night of Sept. 28, it made the trip back to Tampa for about two weeks under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard, who is also known as The Keeper of the Cup. The Lightning held their parade along the Hillsborough River and shared it with children’s hospitals, schools, hockey teams and fire and police departments before it was brought back to Canada in mid-October. (One Lightning scout who was recently in Tampa for scouting meetings said he never even saw the Cup because it was constantly on the move.) The Cup is traditionally engraved during training camp after it has crisscrossed the globe and being feted at parties and charity events during the summer months. But just as COVID has done with almost everything else in 2020, it has put the Stanley Cup’s celebration tour in serious doubt.
“They’re trying to figure out what they can and can’t do,” said Pritchard, who just completed his 14-day quarantine after returning from Tampa with the Cup. “There’s a two-week period to work around the rules and regulations for COVID with the medical doctors, the league and all the provinces and states and the Hall to see if we can’t make something happen. But as of right now, we don’t know.”
It’s almost certain the Cup will not go to Europe this off-season, particularly since the European Union closed its borders to Canadian visitors after a recent spike in numbers. And the border to Canada from the United States still requires a two-week quarantine. And with limitations on how many people can gather together in many jurisdictions, it’s doubtful anyone would be able to hold a large party to celebrate anyway.
Pritchard said he has taken extra safety precautions to ensure no bacteria can get transferred from the Cup. Drinking out of it, for the most part, is pretty much forbidden. And that’s unfortunate because one of the things that makes the Stanley Cup so appealing is the fact that the league and the Hall of Fame make it so accessible. They want people to be able to see it, reach it, touch it and share in it with the players who have worked so hard to win it. But in a world that is in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s another one of those things that a lot of people once enjoyed that has been taken away, we hope only temporarily.
It’s expected the Cup will return to Tampa at some point before next season starts and any Lightning players who want to spend a day with it there will probably have their opportunity to do so. But the days of having it in your hometown and sharing it with hundreds of people are, at the very least, being put on hold for this year.
There’s going to be a celebration, we just don’t know how it’s going to look,” Pritchard said. “Once it gets engraved, we’ll see what’s happening and whether we’re going anywhere or staying put. But we do know that they’ll have their names on the Cup and they are Stanley Cup champions.”