It appears the World Cup will return in 2016 and while the NHL could still send its player to South Korea in 2018, the idea of Olympic participation would at least be put in doubt. If you had to choose one, which would you rather see NHLers participate in: the Olympics, or a World Cup?
The last World Cup of Hockey was played in 2004, with Canada winning just ahead of the lost 2004-05 NHL season. When the league came back, the Olympic tournament became the main international best-on-best competition, with Turin, Vancouver and Sochi the three host cities in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Last June, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported the World Cup was expected to return in 2016 with Toronto as the host city. With the next Winter Olympics scheduled for PyeongChang, South Korea, the destination isn’t as attractive to the NHL as events hosted in North America or Russia. The live games would be broadcasted at odd hours for the majority of hockey fans and the 2018 host nation isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed – the program is ranked 23rd in the world. Not exactly ideal conditions for a best-on-best tournament that the NHL would have to shutdown for.
So, it seems like a perfect time to resurrect the World Cup. And according to Czech site hokej.cz, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr confirmed that’s where this is going.
According to the report, Fehr was speaking at the IIHF Congress in Tenerife, Spain and said the basic structure of a World Cup Tournament was in place. Six teams – Canada, USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic – would clearly be involved, with two others to be confirmed later. The anticipated date for the tournament would be sometime around Sept. 15 through Oct. 1.
With the Olympics rolling around once every four years, a World Cup that launches in 2016 could fill in the gap and give us a best-on-best tournament every two years. However, with no deal in sight for the South Korea Olympics, it may be an opportunity for the NHL to regain full control of the top international event on hockey’s calendar. The league doesn’t control Olympic revenues the way it does for a World Cup, so returning the latter makes great business sense for the NHL and NHLPA. According to that June Sportsnet report, bidding for future World Cup events could be encouraged for cities around the globe, with the league and players splitting the revenue.
So, while it’s possible both an Olympic tournament and World Cup featuring NHL players could exist in a rotation, with so much up in the air regarding the future of international events, the NHL has an opportunity to seize control. Which would you rather have – Olympics or World Cup?
Consider this – a World Cup event would not force the NHL to shut down in the middle of the season and that’s a huge plus. A September tournament would serve as a warm-up to the NHL season and, for the most part, the players would be healthy. We also wouldn’t have piddly teams up against international juggernauts, so a World Cup should provide better, more competitive games from start to finish. Can you imagine what the score would be in a South Korea-Canada game in 2018? Ugly.
The whole set up of a World Cup is more convenient for the league and the majority of its fans than a South Korean Olympic tournament would be. Think about it: Prime time games, pre-season excitement, the elite of the elite playing one another, and a certain lost tradition. The World Cup’s origins date back to the Canada Cup, which started in 1976 and ran sporadically after that in 1981, 1984, 1987 and 1991 before changing to the World Cup in 1996.
While the aura of the Olympics are unique and special, I’d prefer the world’s best players to perform at a World Cup, but ask one thing: please make the scheduling consistent and dedicate to making it a long-term event. Whether the World Cup occurs every two or four years, stick to it and make the tournament a staple event for years to come. The Olympic tournament would lose the high-end appeal it’s had if NHLers no longer compete, but it would give us something different to watch on the international scene with, hypothetically, “amateur” players returning to compete.
Which would you rather have?