"When Lord Stanley gave hockey--and the sporting world--his remarkable gift, there were no owners, and no professionals. He wanted the trophy to go to the best team in the Canada, and it was a challenge cup, so winning it meant that you could be challenged for it. It was a fluid kind of trophy intended to keep competition keen, and teams sharp. It has evolved into a 'possession is 9/10ths of the law' reality with the NHL, whose trustees apparently honour the spirit of Stanley's gift by restricting competition for the trophy to the NHL, though he imposed no such restriction.
"So, by the letter of the gift, it should be open to the best team playing in the best league playing in Canada (and North America, to be realistic) and that would be the AHL. It would be poetic justice, as well, considering how many AHLers could be playing in the NHL but for falling through the cracks of salary caps or depth charts or personality conflicts with management.
"Would the trophy's luster be diminished by the Abbotsford Heat winning it, given that it has also been won by the Kenora Thistles and the Victoria Cougars, who were best of their times? The NHL has never been much interested in its own history, though, so the sun will continue to shine on the Stanley Cup's NHL storage closet for the 2012-13 season unless reason rapidly descends on the NHL."