Beyond Headlines: World Cup of Hockey a huge missed opportunity

The Hockey Night in Canada panel looks at the biggest news around the league, with the Ottawa Senators apparently offering a contract to Matt Duchene and the Maple Leafs on the hunt for another defenceman.

‘Beyond Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories discussed — and even some that weren’t — each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is a massive missed opportunity.

When time ran out on a potential World Cup in September 2020, the goalposts were moved on an international tournament that is guaranteed to drive a tidal wave of interest both inside the sport and beyond.

We’re talking about a best-on-best event where Connor McDavid suits up with Team Canada’s golden generation, joining Sidney Crosby and Co. as they bid to extend their run of international dominance. We’re talking about the strongest Team USA roster ever, with Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau adding a dynamic element that has often been missing for that country in these types of tournaments.

The marketer’s dream extends beyond North American borders, too, with Finland clearly on the rise globally and able to bring Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho and Mikko Rantanen — key members of the gold medal-winning team from the 2016 world juniors. And don’t forget Elias Pettersson joining Sweden’s defensively gifted squad, and a highly motivated Alex Ovechkin looking for his first best-on-best win with Russia after finally getting his hands on the Stanley Cup.

There’s a tremendous amount of excitement around the NHL these days and a lot of it is driven by the skilled young generation that has turned back the clock on scoring rates.

Those players are aching for the chance to play for their countries, and that’s really what’s being missed out on with the international calendar sitting blank.

When the NHL and NHLPA decided this week that they’d run out of time to reach an agreement that would establish continuity and see the World Cup played four years after the previous one, the future of best-on-best hockey became murkier than ever. There’s no shared vision for when the next major international tournament should occur — with the union in favour of a potential World Cup in February 2021, and the league still fervently against the idea of shutting down its season for a traditional event.

Realistically, we’re probably looking at the 2022 Beijing Olympics as the earliest opportunity for the next best-on-best. And there’s no guarantee the NHL changes its stance and finds common ground with the inflexible International Olympic Committee before that one, even with the broader appeal of the Chinese market looming as a major factor in that decision.

So maybe we’ll get something in September 2022…?

By then McDavid and Matthews would be 25 and making their first appearances in national team sweaters at the sport’s highest level. That’s much later than each of the generational players who came before them:

• Wayne Gretzky was 20 when he led the 1981 Canada Cup in scoring.

• Mario Lemieux was 21 when he scored one of international hockey’s most famous goals to capture the 1987 Canada Cup.

• Ovechkin was 20 when he starred for the Russian team at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

• Crosby was 22 when he sent the country into celebration with the Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

The modern history of international hockey is filled with stops and starts, and a variety of events and formats. But there has consistently been some form of best-on-best every few years going back more than three decades: 1976 Canada Cup, 1981 Canada Cup, 1984 Canada Cup, 1987 Canada Cup, 1991 Canada Cup, 1996 World Cup, 1998 Olympics, 2002 Olympics, 2006 Olympics, 2010 Olympics, 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup.

Even if it’s too early to say exactly when the next one will be, it’s clearly going to be long overdue when it happens.

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EK65 WATCH

One of the things Erik Karlsson appreciates most about the San Jose Sharks is how they’ve given him the latitude to be himself. The coaching staff was patient early in the season while he worked through some on-ice adjustments following a trade from the Ottawa Senators, and management gave him time to get comfortable before starting a discussion on his future.

That conversation essentially got underway Friday when Karlsson’s agent, Don Meehan of Newport Sports, met with Sharks GM Doug Wilson in Tampa.

Don’t be surprised if the process plays out methodically.

Karlsson isn’t even eligible to sign a max term eight-year extension with San Jose until after the Feb. 25 trade deadline passes, and will probably have to think long and hard about passing up the potential opportunities in free agency to stay with the Sharks.

In the meantime, he’s been playing fantastic hockey and is about to experience a “home” All-Star Game at the SAP Center next weekend — something he got to do with Ottawa in 2011. (Assuming the minor injury that kept Karlsson out of Saturday’s game against the Lightning doesn’t persist).

The next meeting between Meehan and Wilson is expected to happen after the all-star festivities are done.

DUCHENE OFFER

An interesting piece of news from colleague Nick Kypreos on the Matt Duchene front. Kyper reports that Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion is willing to give the pending free agent a $64-million, eight-year extension — matching the deal Ryan Johansen got from Nashville in 2017.

If Duchene is inclined to stay in Ottawa, rather than testing the open market on July 1, that should be reasonably close to what it takes to get something done. He’d probably like a little more, but the Senators are in the ballpark.

You’d have to think it will cost Ottawa even more to retain winger Mark Stone and colleague Elliotte Friedman reported on “Headlines” that numbers were discussed with his representatives during a meeting in recent days.

Dorion probably only has about three weeks left to make a push to complete these extensions before he shifts focus and starts talking to colleagues about potential trades.

MINING SILVER

Jakob Silfverberg is playing out the final year of his $3.75-million contract on an Anaheim Ducks team that has ridden the roller-coaster this season, and scouts from other NHL teams are monitoring his situation closely.

The Ducks would prefer to sign the 28-year-old right winger but there hasn’t been much progress on an extension.

He’ll almost certainly be dealt before the deadline if that doesn’t change.

With Anaheim among a large group of teams fighting for the wild-card spots in the Western Conference, it would make sense for them to send Silfverberg to the East. There’s definitely interest from the other conference, should the Ducks decide to make a move.

HOCKEY-LOVIN’ HITCH

Ken Hitchcock officially retired after last season, relinquishing his post with the Dallas Stars and saying: “I came to the conclusion that now is the right time to step away and let the younger generation of coaches take over.”

That retirement lasted seven months. In between, he turned down overtures from two NHL teams, Hitchcock told Scott Oake and Louie DeBrusk on Saturday’s fantastic “After Hours” segment, and couldn’t possibly ignore the third one.

“Then Edmonton called, and that’s a whole different story. I mean, Scott, I live 10 minutes from here,” said Hitchcock. “I grew up 10 minutes from here, right across the river. This is my home and there’s a huge emotional tug to do something like this. My heroes played for the Oilers, I was here Game 1 of the WHA, this is a whole different animal than just going and becoming a hockey coach and trying to help somebody that you maybe know a few people. I know everybody in this town and I feel like it’s my job to get everything I can out of the hockey club because that’s why I owe the team and that’s what I owe the city.”

The deal Hitchcock signed with the Oilers only runs through the end of this season, but the 67-year-old is open to a longer-term arrangement. Not yet 30 games into his tenure with the organization, he hopes to return next year.

“I’d love to. The way I feel right now, I think I could coach forever, but I know that’s not going to happen. If you’re asking me on a personal basis, I just love it here. I love the people and I love what the players are doing to help us win.”

Retirement isn’t for everyone.

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