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Screen Shots: World Cup, Jack Campbell and Borje Salming

Adam Proteau analyzes the decision to push plans for a World Cup of Hockey by one year, Jack Campbell's struggles and the ovation for Borje Salming.
Jack Campbell

Welcome back to Screen Shots, a regular THN.com feature in which we take a look at a few different hockey topics, and analyze them in mini-columns. Let’s get straight to it:

– The NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced Friday their plan to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February of 2024 was cancelled. They’re now looking at 2025 as the earliest possible year to put on the event. The league and PA gave no specific rationale as to why the tournament had to be delayed, but many observers, including this one, saw the participation of Russia, or lack thereof, as a key sticking point. That appears to be the issue that the two sides could not find a way around.

In theory, at least, the NHL and NHLPA could’ve allowed Russia – currently involved in a war of aggression against Ukraine – to have its athletes participate in a World Cup in the equivalent of Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), which is the umbrella organization under which Russia took part in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 Olympic Games. But, considering the NHL has already suspended business ties with Russia over its current war, they wouldn't have made anyone on either side of the issue happy with such an arrangement.

They still won't make anybody happy with Friday’s announcement, but global politics has wide-ranging effects, and this is one of them. Without a Russian team, the quality of play at the World Cup would’ve been significantly diminished, and clearly, the league and players’ union are kicking the can down the road one year and hoping political matters will improve by then.

That said, there is no discernable end to the Russia-Ukraine war, and what happens if, this time next year, the political issues with Russia remain? Here’s a guess: the World Cup would be delayed by two additional years, as in 2026, the NHL will almost assuredly send players to the Milano Cortina Winter Olympic Games. Suddenly, the probability of another World Cup will begin to seem extremely remote. It would be a shame, as the concept of the tournament has led to quality hockey in the previous two World Cups. But there’s no getting around Russia’s current status as an international pariah, and as long as it remains, the international hockey scene will take a back seat to real-world realities.

– The struggles of Edmonton Oilers starting goalie Jack Campbell continued Thursday, with Campbell allowing all seven Carolina goals in the Hurricanes’ 7-2 romp over the Oilers. Campbell posted an abysmal .781 save percentage in the game, and his individual numbers on the season – including a 4.27 goals-against average and .873 SP – are woefully inadequate regardless of his salary, although the fact he’s in Year 1 of a five-year, $25-million contract makes his performance all the worse.

Campbell is a famously streaky netminder, and there’s reason to believe he’s better than his early numbers this year indicate. Edmonton might be near the bottom of the Pacific Division standings were it not for the stellar play of backup goalie Stuart Skinner, but in Skinner’s brief NHL career, the most he’s played in a single season is the 13 games he appeared in last year.

It’s not a good idea to expect Skinner takes over the starter’s job and make Campbell the league’s most expensive No. 2, but Edmonton also can’t afford to let Campbell continue to wobble for weeks and weeks.

The Oilers’ defense corps is not one of the league’s most stingy, and there has to be an improvement from the team’s blueliners if Campbell is to push his way through this terrible stretch. But you can see now why Campbell’s former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, were not willing to give him the type of contract Edmonton GM Ken Holland eventually gave to Campbell. He may eventually prove to be better than former Oilers starter Mike Smith, but there’s no guarantee of that, and the downside of Holland’s gamble is considerable. The pressure was on Campbell as soon as he signed with Edmonton, but it has ratcheted up dramatically since then and shows no signs of abating.

– Finally, it was both heartwarming and heartbreaking to see the reaction to Borje Salming at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto Friday night. Salming, who announced in August he had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, was in his home away from home for the annual Hockey Hall of Fame weekend, and the physical effects on him were clear. Standing between former teammate and fellow Leafs superstar Darryl Sittler and fellow Leafs Swedish legend Mats Sundin, Salming brought everyone in the building, including Sundin and Sittler, and those watching at home, to tears with his brave appearance.

There are team plans to give Salming a longer tribute Saturday in the Leafs’ home game against Vancouver, and Toronto fans should be giving him a prolonged standing ovation to show their support for the icon, and thank him, perhaps one last time, for all the wonderful memories he created in his younger days. Salming now is showing us his resolve against ALS, and we wish him the very best. 

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