TORONTO – Fans of international hockey, rejoice.
We’re going to get the best players in the world on the ice together more often and the reborn World Cup of Hockey will be given a fighting chance to succeed by being held every four years.
“We’re committed to multiple tournaments on a regular schedule,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly revealed Wednesday. “So, yes, I think we’re committed for 2020.”
“This was the plan – to establish an ongoing event, establish the brand, establish the identity and go forward with it,” added Don Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association. “The prior World Cups were great events in and of themselves, but they didn’t have the kind of staying power that doing it regularly provides.”
Repetition is the only way to truly weave this type of tournament into the tapestry of hockey’s ongoing international conversation. It will have been 12 years between World Cups when the puck drops at Air Canada Centre in September – all but rendering the 2004 World Cup, not to mention the version held in 1996, a hazy memory.
One day the NHL and NHLPA would love to see this tournament considered every bit as important as the Olympics.
In the meantime, success will be measured on a more moderate scale. Organizers simply want to stage an event that satisfies players, sponsors and fans while generating in excess of $100-million in profits.
“I think this is going to be an incredible entertainment product,” said Daly. “We have every expectation that this is going to be a fantastic event and sold out and extremely popular here in Toronto.”
One of the biggest questions to be answered beyond 2016 is whether it will continue to be held in one city or spread across multiple. Only after an “exhaustive debrief” coming out of the Toronto event will that decision be made.
There is also a strong possibility that cities will eventually bid for the right to host future versions of the World Cup.
“What the hope is and what my personal expectation is, is this will be seen as a significant enough event and beneficial enough event for the cities that we’ll have a lot of interest,” said Fehr.
In addition to having the initial 16-man rosters and sweater designs released Wednesday, other details of the event are coming into focus. Daly says that he doesn’t expect an anthem to be played until after the final is complete – potentially solving the issue of what song Team Europe and Team North America will each be associated with.
The deputy commissioner also said that a sponsorship logo might still be added to the sweaters, which would be a first for an event of this kind in North America.
“I wouldn’t draw any conclusions at all from the fact that the jersey reveal doesn’t have any advertising or sponsorship on them,” said Daly. “We’re still 198 days away from puck drop on the tournament. We’re still concluding partnership arrangements.”
What you shouldn’t expect to see is a future World Cup tournament held mid-season. While the idea has been kicked around, Daly and Fehr agree that September is the ideal time to stage the event.
It allows for training camps and a significant level of preparation – something teams certainly don’t get before the Olympics – and should make for better hockey as a result.
There’s also no reason to believe that a World Cup held every four years in any way affects whether NHL players will continue to participate in the Winter Games. Substantive discussions on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics aren’t expected to happen until after this World Cup is completed.
“We view this as entirely discreet events,” said Fehr. “The Olympics has its own merits, its own issues, and this is a separate event that focuses only on hockey, and the best-on-best. We don’t consider the questions as to whether one precludes the other; we don’t think it does.”
“There’s a whole set of issues associated with Olympic participation that don’t really affect or even relate to World Cup consideration,” said Daly.
What it means for fans of international hockey is that you’re going to get more of a good thing. There doesn’t seem to be any concern among the most powerful men in the sport that additional events on the international calendar will lead to fatigue.
“At this point everything we get from the players’ association and players generally is they love representing their countries, they love best-on-best, they love international tournaments,” said Daly.
Now they’re going to get more opportunities to do it.