Do the Detroit Red Wings have 11 or 12 Stanley Cups?
Should the 1925 Victoria Cougars championship count?
The Detroit Red Wings have 11 Stanley Cups in franchise history. Or, to be more precise about it, the Detroit Red Wings, since the NHL awarded them to a group of investors in 1926 as an expansion franchise, have won 11 Stanley Cups, the first in 1936 and the most recent in 2008.
But that's not the whole story.
The last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup was the 1925 Victoria Cougars of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). They played for one more season in the renamed Western Hockey League before the league, and therefore the Victoria Cougars, folded.
The timing worked out well for the investors from Detroit. When the NHL awarded them a franchise, they needed players for the inaugural season. There just so happened to be a group of players who lost their team thanks to their league folding. Whether the Cougars' roster was sold to the new Detroit franchise by some unnamed entity or process or the investors actively bought the players, the new Detroit team had more than half the players that would suit up for the expansion Detroit Cougars in that first season.
Is Anyone Else Like This?
Detroit is pretty unique in regard to this particular nuance of its hockey history. Compared to other franchises, no other team has a similar timeline.
Our friends over at Silver Seven graciously offered me this tidbit when comparing the modern Ottawa Senators to the old-time teams that won three Stanley Cups in the 1920s.
In short, those old Sens Cups aren't considered part of the modern franchise. When the team first came into being, they drummed up those Cups a bit because the team needed something to be excited about, and because Frank Finnigan was a key person in getting the new Sens. Those Stanley Cups are a huge part of Ottawa sports history, but they belonged to the original franchise.In other words, while some might regard the modern-day Senators as a sort of revival of the old-time team, there's nothing that links the two together beyond geography. There are no players that have a direct line to the old team — at least, not without doing a massive transaction tree just to see if there might be. It's treated as an entirely new team, almost as if the team weren't in Ottawa.
Two other teams do claim Stanley Cups from that era: the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Montreal's oldest Stanley Cup in 1916 predates the NHL. Two of Toronto's championships were won as the Toronto Arenas and the Toronto St. Pats. But the difference between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs versus Ottawa and Detroit/ Victoria is that the former two franchises have existed continuously, even through name changes in the case of the Maple Leafs. There was no relocation for them.
Does It Really Count?
We've established that there is some legitimacy threshold to claiming ownership of a Stanley Cup as a franchise, and it's somewhere between being a continuous franchise and lying dormant for decades. The Detroit-Victoria connection does lie somewhere between the two, especially since the resulting Detroit Cougars didn't come about because of an intentional franchise relocation. Victoria's old league folded, but the players were the ones that were bought, not the team, despite the homage to Victoria when Detroit named itself the Cougars.
But the fact remains that of the 11 players whose names were engraved on the 1925 Stanley Cup championship, nine suited up in the Detroit Cougars' inaugural season, players like Frank Foyston, Frank Fredrickson, Clem Loughlin, Harold Halderson, and goaltender Hap Holmes. Detroit doesn't have the continuous ties, at least through paper transactions, that the Canadiens and Maple Leafs do, but their legacy of buying the players who won the 1925 Stanley Cup presents a more tenable claim to that championship as a part of the Detroit franchise's history than anything the modern Senators can claim.
Where Does This Road Lead?
If the Detroit franchise claimed the 1925 Stanley Cup, it can't get away with claiming just a single championship. There are all-time franchise records and statistics that would have to be updated. There's a Stanley Cup challenge loss to the Toronto Blueshirts in 1914 that would have to be reflected in the franchise's history. There's a multi-season postseason drought when the Victoria team didn't even contend for the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) title for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. And can the Detroit franchise even claim any of the PCHA as a part of its legacy when Victoria and Detroit were two different teams that just happened to have a lot of the same players?
If Detroit claims the 1925 Stanley Cup as a part of its own franchise history when the team was in Victoria, there's an entire mess of things that would also have to come along with the Cup. Figuring those things out is beyond the scope of this post, however.
Ultimately, even if the two teams were separate franchises that just happened to employ the same players, the fact Detroit made a bid for those particular players gives them the license to claim ownership of the Victoria franchise's legacy, including the 1925 Stanley Cup. If the same situation were to happen today, say, the Red Wings fold and the NHL doesn't hold a dispersal draft but allows investors from non-Michigan-town, USA to buy the contracts of those players to start a franchise, would Detroit hold the records, or would they go to the new expansion team?
That rhetorical question doesn't have an easy answer. But it highlights just how unique the circumstances were for the Detroit Cougars to buy the old Victoria team and start a franchise anew with players that already had a Stanley Cup to their name.