From the lip of its bowl to the bottom of its barrel, the Stanley Cup is fine silver. But the trophy also is organic, an evolving celebration of hockey's championship teams and players, its shape and face having changed many times during its remarkable lifetime.
Change is coming again this fall, as it does every 13 years, forever taking from the Cup the names of some of the greatest players to have laced up a pair of skates.
The top of five bands on the Cup, bearing 340 names, soon will be removed and retired. It is a process that takes place when a polished band, wrapping around the 35-inch circumference of the trophy's barrel, has been filled by 13 championship teams.
The 2017-18 Washington Capitals are to become the first team engraved on a fresh bottom band. The top band, featuring champions from the 1953-54 Detroit Red Wings to the 1964-65 Montreal Canadiens, will come off the Cup to make room.
(The retiring band this time features 12 teams, not the usual 13. For a reason no one can explain, the engraving of the 1964-65 Canadiens takes up twice the normal space.)
Video: Legendary names to be removed from the Stanley Cup
Montreal silversmith Louise St. Jacques will disassemble the Cup on her workbench during the last week of September and begin the painstaking task of "engraving" the Capitals; in fact, it's more a process of stamping each letter, number and punctuation mark into the silver with a small hammer.
But just as important as St. Jacques' addition of the Capitals to the Cup this month will be her cleansing and restoration of the trophy, which traveled well and partied enthusiastically over the summer. When her work is done, the top band will be bound for display in the vault of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
The retired band will be the third such removed. It will join those featuring teams from 1927-28 through 1939-40 and another with those from 1940-41 to 1952-53, placed under glass a few feet from Lord Stanley's elegantly displayed original sterling bowl.
Video: Lord Stanley of Preston donates Silver Bowl
Among the names coming off the Stanley Cup this fall are 16 Hall of Fame players, winners of a combined 63 championships: Detroit's Alex Delvecchio (three Stanley Cup titles), Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay (four each); Montreal's Butch Bouchard (four), Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Dickie Moore, Jacques Plante (six each) and Maurice Richard (eight); the Chicago Black Hawks' Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote (one each); Andy Bathgate of the Toronto Maple Leafs (one); and Bert Olmstead, who won four times with Montreal and another with Toronto.
The top band carries the names of some of the greatest teams of the NHL's Original Six era (1942-67). The Canadiens are represented six times, having won five straight titles from 1956-60 and another in 1964-65. Also on the band are the Maple Leafs' three consecutive Cup-winning teams from 1962-64; the Red Wings of 1953-54 and '54-55; and the 1960-61 Black Hawks.
Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada's sixth governor general, and the original Stanley Cup, which is showcased in the Hockey Hall of Fame's vault in Toronto.
The priceless trophy weighs 34 1/2 pounds, worth about $8,000 today on the silver market at about $14.50 per ounce. But there's this: Those who win hockey's most coveted award will tell you that the Cup is either weightless when pressed overhead in victory, or so heavy with the effort required to win it that it can barely be lifted at all.
The 35 1/4-inch trophy has changed both subtly and dramatically since it was commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup by outgoing Canada governor general Lord Stanley of Preston, a simple 7 1/2-inch bowl that was first presented the following year to the Montreal AAA amateur team.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Syl Apps holds the stovepipe-shaped Stanley Cup following his team's 1942 victory.
[Read all Etched in History stories: 1953-54 Red Wings | 1954-55 Red Wings | 1955-56 Canadiens |
1956-57 Canadiens | 1957-58 Canadiens | 1958-59 Canadiens | 1959-60 Canadiens | 1960-61 Black Hawks |
1961-62 Maple Leafs | 1962-63 Maple Leafs | 1963-64 Maple Leafs | 1964-65 Canadiens]
The Cup has grown during its remarkable lifetime. A collar came and went, and a shoulder was added. The trophy then morphed into a slim tower -- this was its stovepipe design, from 1932-47 -- and finally the stocky shape we know today, nine uneven-sized bands yielding in 1957 to the current symmetrical five.
Each day through Oct. 2, NHL.com will feature one of the 12 teams that are coming off the Cup.
My work on this series began in June in Las Vegas, during the Stanley Cup Final and the 2018 NHL Awards, though I had studied the trophy many times earlier during time alone with it. As my summer research grew more serious, the teams and players became much more personal to me.
The careers of many of these men stretched beyond 1965, and I knew their names from keeping my first scrapbooks as a schoolboy. As a journalist, I would interview and profile dozens of them over several decades; some became dear friends, truly a privilege, and I have written too many obituaries and appreciations for others among them who we have lost.
Silversmith Carl Petersen stamping names into the Cup in the 1960s, and the current engraver, Louise St. Jacques, at work in her Montreal studio.
For about three months, I have been hip-deep in photo files, especially the stunning, massive collections of the Hall of Fame. My breath has been taken away by many hundreds of portraits and action shots I have viewed and the scores I have downloaded, digitally restoring photos of many of my boyhood heroes who remain so to this day, the same images that together became wallpaper in my bedroom.
A player's name appears on the Stanley Cup for at least 52 years and as many as 65, depending on where a team is engraved on a band. That the names of such timeless legends as Howe, Richard and others are about to be removed is an emotional farewell to icons, just as it is to the lesser known players who all played a part in at least one championship.
Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr chases Montreal Canadiens center Henri Richard during a game at the Montreal Forum.
Next to be retired, in 2031, will be the band featuring champions from 1965-66 to 1977-78: the Canadiens (eight times), Boston Bruins (two), Philadelphia Flyers (two) and Maple Leafs (one). And with it will go the names of another large group of Hall of Famers. Among them: Montreal center Henri Richard, whose 11 championships are a record for a player, and Boston's Bobby Orr, widely viewed as the greatest defenseman of all time.
But whether on the trophy itself or in a vault among other legends, these champions will not be forgotten. The Stanley Cup has long been a monument to the NHL's greatest teams and players, superstars and journeymen pulling as one with a common goal, its scratches and dents and misspelled names only adding to its beauty. It is a living, breathing museum whose sterling exhibits are always freshened, which is why I'd suggest it's the greatest trophy in sports.