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Cancelling World Cup another indication international play remains nothing more than bargaining chip

The NHL and NHLPA released statements on Wednesday announcing that the World Cup of Hockey won't return in 2020. Don't be surprised, though. International play always has been — and will remain — nothing more than a bargaining chip.

So the NHL and its players’ association have decided to scratch the possibility of holding their sort of, almost quadrennial invitational tournament, better known as the World Cup of Hockey or the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ in 2020. What a shame. Now we’ll never know how good Team Guys From Saskatchewan With Red Hair Who Were Born On A Tuesday would have been.

Each of them put out a separate release after they had met on the matter Wednesday in Toronto. The NHL said reported that the two sides, “have now jointly concluded that it is no longer realistic to try to schedule a World Cup of Hockey for the fall of 2020,” while the NHLPA said, “we jointly concluded that it is unrealistic to expect that preparations for the event would be completed in time.” Wow, just wow. How could that have possibly been avoided? Oh, don’t know, perhaps by scheduling the meeting a little earlier? Just spitballing here.

It really stretches the bounds of credulity that the league and NHLPA think for even one minute that hockey fans don’t see through the transparent issue here, and that is that the league has no interest in a repeat of 2004 when the World Cup was won by Team Canada, just hours before NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners locked the doors to their arenas, initiating a lockout that cost an entire season. Both sides have professed that there is every reason to believe there will be labor peace, despite the fact that either side can extricate itself from the current collective bargaining agreement on Sept. 15, 2020. This was a chance for both of them to actually have a skin in that game and give fans some hope that there was actually something to those optimistic forecasts. They declined to do so and now all we’re left with is uncertainty. That is, unless you’re part of the faction that believes another labor imbroglio is inevitable based on the NHL’s history of dealing with expiring CBAs.

International hockey is essentially being used for what it has almost always been, a bargaining chip. So the next time someone from the NHL tries to tell you with a straight face that it is committed to growing the game on a global scale, please try your best not to burst out laughing. Because that notion is nothing if not laughable. If the league were truly committed to growing the game beyond North America, it would have an international calendar that is impervious to the vagaries of collective bargaining. Since the Canada Cup was rebranded as the World Cup in 1996, there will have been seven opportunities to hold the event and it will have been held three times. If the league were truly committed to growing the game, it would have taken the long view and continued to send its players to the Olympics instead of using participation in the Games as a way to gain concessions with the players. If the players had been as enthusiastic about playing in the Olympics as they claim to be, they would have enshrined their participation in the current CBA.

Beyond allowing its non-playoff players to play annually in the World Championship – which is a sizeable and commendable commitment – the NHL actually does nothing to help the game grow on a worldwide level. And that’s fine. It’s their league, they pay the players and they get to decide when and where they can represent their countries in international competition. What sticks in the craw is that out of one side of its mouth the league claims to be committed to international hockey and out of the other side continues to fabricate excuses for not participating.

Back in the last World Cup of Hockey, organizers actually sold vials of water from the Zamboni shavings for $65. But wait, there’s more! For $15, you could also purchase a lanyard to hold your wildly overpriced tickets and for $35, you could have purchased a commemorative coffee mug. The 2016 event fell well short of projected revenues, coming in somewhere in the range of $40 million rather than the $100 million which was forecast, which was likely another factor at work here. But everyone made off without losing money and the players who played in the tournament made an extra $75,000 to $80,000, while the NHL roster players who did not play received about $10,000 each. Team Canada’s players also split $500,000 for winning the event, while Team Europe divvied up $250,000 for finishing second.

The NHL and its players’ association will have you believe that it is passing up on that extra money because there simply isn’t enough time to put the event together, as though 2020 just crept up on them without them realizing it. But please remember this. International hockey is not seen as a means of growing the game. It is a bargaining chip, nothing more. Always has been. Always will be.


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