So the National Hockey League and its Players’ Association want to firm up their international schedule, as part of collective bargaining negotiations that are coming to a head over the next two seasons.
That could mean a World Cup of Hockey as soon as 2021 — as discussed in Chris Johnston’s article out of Sweden — but there are a few twists. As opposed to the 2016 World Cup, which ran prior to the start of the NHL season, they would be looking at an in-season tournament which takes place over an extended All-Star break in 2021.
Of course, the shorter tournament in 2021 would mean fewer teams than they had in 2016 — which included Team Europe and Team North America.
“It would be kind of a mini-tournament about a week in length,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Day told Sportsnet. “Tack on a couple of days to the typical all-star break and fit it in an international event.”
Obviously, Olympic participation is a more pressing issue for players and fans alike, but we already know which countries field teams in an Olympic tournament. The next World Cup is NHL/NHLPA property, and as such can be sculpted any way the two sides decide.
Our World Cup includes six teams: Canada, United States, Sweden, Russia, Finland and a Team Europe. Each team gets two round-robin games, then you have two semi-finals and a gold medal game. That’s four games in seven days for the two finalists, and every game matters.
Why no Team North America? What about the Czechs?
Let’s dig in on some of those details, shall we?
Team North America
Team North America was the best thing about that 2016 tournament. But that’s because they had Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Reilly, Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Seth Jones.
There are still enough 23-and-under North American players to assemble a formidable roster, but not one that can compete with that 2016 team. If we’re going from eight teams to six, the kids get cut. Sorry.
Here are a few reasons why Team Europe is an absolute must: Leon Draisaitl. Anze Kopitar. Nico Hischier. Roman Josi. Zdeno Chara. David Pastrnak. David Krejci. Tomas Hertl.
In a format that excludes a team from the Czech Republic, none of those players would be eligible for the World Cup without a Team Europe. Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock met the Europeans in the 2016 best-of-three final, and the Euros acquitted themselves well.
“You put all those countries together, there’s lots of good players there,” Babcock said back in 2016. “I like their back end, I like the goaltending. I think they’ve done a real good job through the middle of the rink with their team. They’ve got a good-looking team.”
Team Czech Republic
Sorry boys, but the Czechs’ track record as a competitive nation does not warrant getting their own team, the way Sweden or Finland does. Besides, in the last World the Czech team only scored six goals in three games, going 1-1-1, and had six players who were not on NHL contracts.
Better to have Team Europe include the best seven or eight Czechs, and round out a competitive roster with players from other European countries who would otherwise be excluded.
Timing and Venue
Here’s your format: The league closes down after Saturday night’s games, players travel to Chicago and Toronto on Sunday and the six teams hold Monday practices. After that, it’s TV double-headers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — which would mean the two pools have to be in separate time zones to facilitate a true TV doubleheader.
We put Canada’s Pool in Toronto, where they’ll play 6 p.m. ET games. We put USA’s Pool in Chicago, where they’ll play 8 p.m. CT games, because it’s mandatory that the two games air separately, one after the next.
We’ll make Friday a travel day, when two teams from Chicago come up to Toronto. Both semi-finals go on Saturday, the gold medal game on Sunday, and the league resumes play on Tuesday.
There’s your format. Not so hard, was it?