TORONTO – Toronto will likely be the site of the World Cup of Hockey when it returns in September 2016.
Talks are ongoing to finalize plans for the international tournament, but a source tells The Canadian Press that Air Canada Centre in Toronto is expected to be chosen as the host venue.
Speaking prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final in Los Angeles, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he wasn’t ready to make an announcement about the World Cup but that the league was discussing it with the NHL Players’ Association.
Bettman said he was not ready to make any announcement on a World Cup of Hockey.
“It’s not something that’s fully baked,” said Bettman. But he added “very substantive” discussions about the possibility of one or several World Cups were taking place with the Players’ Association.
When they get to it, a World Cup would be part of an expanded “international calendar,” he said.
“We don’t necessarily view the World Cup as a one-off, which is why the discussions are as elaborate as they are,” Bettman said.
As for future Olympic participation, he said there have not been any in-depth talks yet. “And that is something that ultimately we are going to have to resolve,” he said. “I’m not sure that we necessarily have to resolve it if and when we make a World Cup announcement.”
The last World Cup was in 2004 split between seven sites throughout North America and Europe with Canada winning gold against Finland in the final held in Toronto.
Toronto will host the NBA All-Star Game in 2016 and reportedly could also be home to the 2017 Winter Classic. The World Cup of Hockey in September would serve to kick off the Maple Leafs’ 100th anniversary season.
The World Cup was originally considered a possibility for September 2015, but talks have gone on so long that 2016 is the new target.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said at a news conference in Sochi, Russia in February that a World Cup would be a shared event between players and the league and was a stand-alone event compared to the Olympics. He added that he didn’t believe the question of future Olympic participation would have to be settled before figuring out the World Cup.
Even if the events are considered separate, having the World Cup in 2016 would set up a pattern of best-on-best hockey tournaments every other year. If the NHL does not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, another World Cup could fill that void.
The World Cup of Hockey has its roots in the Canada Cup, which dates to 1976. It was held with the World Cup name twice, in 1996 and 2004.
—With files from Neil Davidson in Los Angeles.