As has been widely documented in the days since the NHL and just about every other professional and amateur sports organization decided to suspend operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in 1919 the Spanish Flu forced an early end to the Stanley Cup final.
The Seattle Metropolitans and Montreal Canadiens were tied (two wins apiece and one tie) before Game 6, which was called off because of the poor health of many Montreal players. Defensemen Joe Hall died four days later.
We bring this up not to scare anyone, but to debunk this myth that if the NHL cancels the rest of this season the Bruins, based on having the most regular-season standings points, would somehow be awarded the Stanley Cup.
No one of authority has even floated this idea, nor is there any precedent for something like this happening. If anything, the precedent from 1919 says to declare no one the Cup champion for 2020.
And that’s the way it should be. No one, but especially people of Boston and the Bruins, should want to be handed the Cup in such a backdoor manner. They call Boston the “City of Champions” for a reason, and none involve winning titles by default. What a gross way it would be to send off Zdeno Chara into possible retirement by having a brief ceremony at City Hall with commissioner Gary Bettman handing the Bruins captain the Cup and then handing it to whichever teammates are still in town before holding a parade where spectators are still banned because of the pandemic.
Even if life is back close to normal when the above scene unfolds, it would still be against every ounce of competitiveness in each every one of our guts to accept the Stanley Cup without going through the rigors of the playoffs. The Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports, a three-month slog that requires a team to win 16 games while battling injury and mental fatigue, traveling North America and dealing with different climates and glaring media attention.
It’ll be bittersweet for David Pastrnak to share the Maurice Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin, and for Tuukka Rask to possibly accept the Vezina Trophy if he’s impressed voters up to this point more than Winnipeg’s Connor Hellbuyck. But individual awards based on regular season performance always come with the caveat that the players’ teams might not have finished their seasons the way the wanted.
A Cup without a Cup final would feel way worse than that. Luckily no one is really considering this notion.
Back in 1919, Seattle refused to accept the Cup even as there was no way for Montreal to compete. The Bruins, you can be sure, would do the same, and would be right to do it.