NHL launching soccer-style Champions Cup?

With the NHL reportedly planning a Champions Cup for 2016, we might see the Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews (right) make like Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben and face the best club teams from other leagues.

In addition to outdoor games and excessive celebrations, the National Hockey League is reportedly preparing to borrow something else from the world’s most popular sport.

By 2016, the NHL will hold a Champions Cup featuring premier club teams in North America and Europe, in the style of soccer’s cross-league international tournament.

Chris Botta, an NHL and soccer business writer for Sports Business Journal, reported the plan Tuesday.

The new tournament would be part of the league’s three-year plan to generate $1 billion more in revenue.

When the NHL and NHLPA met with the International Ice Hockey Federation this year to arrange a plan to send NHL players to Sochi in 2014, they also spoke of expanding international competition beyond the Olympics.

This is the first report of a Champions Cup, however, which, unlike the World Cup — last played in 2004 — would feature club teams as opposed to national outfits.

“We talked about the World Cup and that is included in the terms of our Player Transfer Agreement and the (anticipation) that we will cooperate on something like the World Cup of Hockey,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told NHL.com in May. “It’s obviously something we have been talking about with the (NHL) Players’ Association, and I think we have a conceptual understanding with them that we should be in a position to play in World Cups and announce them soon.”

The idea of NHL clubs competing against teams from, say, the KHL or Swedish Elite League raises many questions, says NHL alumnus and Hockey Central analyst Marty McSorley.

“Let’s say you have Chicago playing the best team from Russia. Joel Quenneville will play (Jonathan) Toews two shifts and (Patrick) Kane two shifts and then play his third goaltender. As a player, you’re looking it as a glorified scrimmage, but at the end you have the Russian team happy and cheering because they won? As a player you’ll feel, we didn’t give them our best,” says McSorley. “I can’t see that teams are going to be that committed to this.”

As a member of the Los Angeles Kings, McSorley participated in the 1988-89 Super Series against touring Soviet club Dinamo Riga. The Kings lost 5-3, and the experience left McSorley sour.

“You put your gear on, and you’re on the bench hardly playing,” McSorley remembers. “You’re like, ‘This is a waste of time.’

“I have a hard, hard time believing the NHL Players’ Association will go for it.”

The only way McSorely sees the idea working is if the games count towards a team’s chase for the Stanley Cup. But even then there will be issues regarding player discipline, insurance, travel and the level of competition. It gets complicated.

“I can’t see you adding more games onto a team’s schedule after they’ve been to the Stanley Cup finals,” McSorely says. “If you’re asking your players to take those games seriously, realistically (consider) how much can you tax your stars?”

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