The NHL should bring back the World Cup of Hockey

It is the perfect time to bring the best international competition back outside the Olympics.
Illustration: Getty Images

Now that it is official and that the NHL players are not going to the Olympics, some disappointments are understandable. The idea that Connor McDavid won’t play for Canada in a best-on-best tournament until he’s 30 is pretty ridiculous. Or that we may never have that line with him and Sidney Crosby. This tournament most likely may have been the best chance for US gold, as most of its players are in their prime. There are some players who won’t be around by 2026. It sucks.

But hockey can have it all, and it can have it soon, and it can have it in a way that both the players and the owners will really make money out of it.

Bring back the World Cup!

It was last held in 2016 in Toronto, and yes, that thing was a disaster, but the league and the players can do better this time around.

The NHL has stopped the World Cup for a couple of decades now. They got some momentum with that in 1996 after renaming the Canada Cup, when the United States won two games in Montreal to take it from the Canadians, with all three games in the final series a classic. It should have been normal then. However, with NHL players being introduced to the Olympics just two years later, there seemed to be an agreement on both sides that the Games would be the first international hockey tournament.

The league brought it back in 2004, right at the dawn of The Great Bettman Lockout II which would cut an entire season, simply to put some money in the owners’ pockets before the whole league was closed for a year. That tournament was garbage, especially since the US team was garbage. Once again, the championship waited another 12 years before bringing it back to 2016, which was completely turned upside down by having a Young Stars squad and a Team Europe instead of the traditional country-by-country organization, giving the whole thing a performance, a pre-season atmosphere. Which is what you want to avoid, even if it’s in the preseason.

Once again, the league was happy to have the Olympics come in as an international standard, but it’s not like there is a long tradition of professionals in the Olympic hockey tournament. It’s only been a little over 20 years and it’s been only five Olympics.

The big problem for the last World Cup was that after the 2010 and 2014 Games, there wasn’t a big appetite for international hockey. It also didn’t help US fans that Canada had won the previous two gold medals and it didn’t look like they would drop that level anytime soon. There was no intrigue. There was still hope or feeling that players would go to South Korea in 2018.

But now it’s reversed. After the players didn’t go to Pyeongchang, and these Olympics were scrapped for NHL players, it’s been more than five years since we’ve seen a best-on-best tournament. Hockey fans want it. There is hunger to see McDavid, Matthews and Panarin dressed for their countries.

Unlike donating everything to the IOC, a World Cup sees the league keep the money, although to get players to get along they too will have to get their share. But they don’t even do it for the Olympics, so this should have some appeal for them.

And frankly, the World Cup should be a better tournament. The Olympics sees players glossing over their NHL duties, maybe doing a couple of training sessions as a team and then starting the tournament. It is disjointed. It is moved. And when it’s held on an Olympic ice surface, 15 feet wider than an NHL, it’s slow. That’s boring. Teams crumple into their crevice defensively and challenge teams to try and get 75 foot shots.

A World Cup will see teams come together weeks in advance. Play warm up games. Check out their lineups. And it will be on an NHL surface. The players are fresh after a summer break instead of wearing just over halfway through the NHL season.

And it can be kept in a place where fans can get to (assuming we’re allowed to travel anytime again this decade). Toronto, Montreal, Vegas, Chicago, New York, Boston, everywhere. It will not have to share the focus with the rest of the Games.

Part of the reason the league avoided a World Cup is that having a tournament in late August or September clashes with soccer and baseball. First of all, no one should be afraid of baseball’s attractiveness anymore, especially after this block. Don’t play on Sundays to avoid the NFL, pretty simple.

ESPN is even ditching national midweek baseball broadcasts, and they happen to be the NHL’s new television partner. It seems to be a measure.

Instead of making it look like something they just pulled out of the closet like they last did in 2016, solid marketing and sales from both the league and any TV partner would make things work.

It’s sitting right there and it wouldn’t take long to work. It is one of those instances where the NHL has to do so little to come out well. But it will still ruin it.


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