The NHL announced Saturday a new, radical format for the returning World Cup of Hockey. Although many have criticized the inclusion of a team comprised of the best North American players 23 or younger and one stocked with the best players from the non-“big four” European countries, there’s plenty to like about the structure of the tournament. Here are the top four things to like about the 2016 World Cup.
4. The future possibilities. With the NHL appealing to other countries via the European combined team and the league clearly intending to extend its imprint on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, there could be a day the tournament takes place in its entirety there. Does anyone doubt a World Cup in Sweden or Russia would be a smashing success? They shouldn’t. The league is building the event safely by choosing Toronto, but it’s not going to stay in that city forever.
3. The controversy. The format is already paying off, as hockey fans of all degrees are discussing the difference between this tourney and the standard, IIHF-sanctioned hockey showdown. Be honest – if the NHL and NHL Players’ Association had simply said, “Everything we did at the last World Cup, we’ll do again in 2016,” the hype over the event would have faded in the immediate months to come, before it began to spike at the end of next season. Now, people will debate all the angles – the rosters, the eventual transition to a more traditional format – and they’ll stay more engaged with it for a longer period. That can only help fuel interest and anticipation. The status quo wouldn’t have done any of that.
2. The location. Whether you like Toronto or not, having all the games in one city cuts down on travel time for the players and that will help make for a better product on the ice. And given Toronto’s embrace of the 2015 World Junior Championship, there’s little doubt the games will be sellouts. A passionate crowd and relatively rested players sets the table for something memorable.
1. The players. Thanks to the two wild-card teams, the World Cup tournament is going to have more star power and better talent in it than any of its predecessors. Anze Kopitar, Frederik Andersen and Zdeno Chara are among those Europeans who’ll now be able to take part, and the U.S. and Canada will be able to draw from their incredibly deep pool of talent to an even greater degree. The game is always about the players, and having more capable players means a more thrilling product.