The NHL has long had a curious way of handling its history.
When the league wants to, it will put it on full display and trot out players of generations past.
But for the most part it’s history is shelved and forgotten.
Now the league is talking about erasing its history.
The big talk uncovered this weekend was the league is in discussions about renaming some of its major trophies to reflect its recent history.
The changes would see the Hart Memorial (MVP) become the Gordie Howe Trophy, the Art Ross (top scorer), become the Wayne Gretzky, the Norris (top defenceman) would be swapped out for the Bobby Orr, while the Frank Calder (top rookie) would be renamed after Mario Lemieux, among others.
In essence the league would be swapping one history for another and an already dusty past would be buried almost completely.
I understand the league wants to find a way to honour some of the more recent legends that goes beyond enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but this is not the way to do it.
While for the most part the names those trophies are named after don’t have a whole lot to do with the meaning of the trophy, those names helped lay the foundation for the league and where it is today.
Also I don’t think the league quite realizes what it means to win a Hart trophy or an Art Ross trophy, and to be able to look at them and see names like Eddie Shore, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, and some of those current legends engraved on them.
I say this because if the league truly understood the weight of something like that, this wouldn’t even be an issue right now. The history of the people who have won those trophies is what gives them their reverence.
In introducing new trophies named after more current players you lose that history. Sure it would be an honour to be named MVP and awarded the Howe trophy, but that’s not the same award that even Gordie Howe himself won five times.
It is a disservice to those who have won the awards and to the history of the game — quite the opposite of what I’m sure the NHL would be shooting for.
The simple way to hour the more recent legends is by bringing back an old tradition that the NHL discarded in the early 90s in an effort to become user friendly to the American public — rename the league divisions after those players.
The league could even continue to use regional emphasis with the divisions, just change the names — but the key would be to make sure the names resonated with the particular division.
First the Western Conference becomes the Gordie Howe Conference.
The Pacific Division could become the Wayne Gretzky Division — if the Great One doesn’t go to L.A. in 1988 it is safe to say there aren’t teams in San Jose, Anaheim and certainly Phoenix.
The Northwest Division becomes the Mark Messier Division — Alberta born and bread, the Moose played for two of the division’s teams and outside of No. 99 was the biggest legend to call the division home.
Central Division turns into the Terry Sawchuk Division — one of the game’s most tortured souls, his name really only is brought up when the likes of Martin Broduer is chasing his records, and that’s unfortunate.
The Eastern Conference should become the Bobby Orr Conference.
The Atlantic Division becomes the Mario Lemieux Division — Super Mario: Player, owner, now a division all unto himself. Sounds about right.
Northeast Division morphs into the Jean Beliveau Division — since Maurice Richard already has a trophy named after him, someone who has his name on the Stanley Cup 17 times deserves this honour.
Southeast Division is cursed as the Gary Bettman Division — I know he’s not a player, but the division has lacked the star power that the others can boast. I know most would rather see Bettman forgotten than immortalized, but considering the division includes the likes of Carolina, Tampa Bay, Miami and Atlanta, really there is no better fit for the division’s naming rights.
The NHL needs to remember that is does no good to remember your recent history if you are only going to forget your early history.