Weeks before the 2016 World Cup, Sportsnet's Chris Johnston penned a piece signaling the end of the line for Canada's "Golden Generation" amidst fears of the NHL's withdrawal from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
According to Gary Bettman, the IOC is unwilling to cover the cost of transportation, lodging and most importantly, insurance like it has for the previous five Winter Games. Sure, this may very well be the end of the line for the partnership between the NHL and International Olympic Committee. But the League and the Players' Association should look at this as an opportunity to put their own thumbprint on the sport's international competition.
The format for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is objectively awful. That's not what we're here to talk about. While it may be exciting (sort of?) to see the North American U-23 team play, we're all more or less pretending the very idea of invoking "World" in the name of the tournament, then making up two teams that are comprised of a grab-bag of stars from lesser-popular hockey nations isn't asinine. Good job on that so far, everyone.
Bickering about the format aside, the World Cup of Hockey offers opportunity for the NHL in a variety of places that the Olympics merely cannot. Let's examine them, shall we?
Lay down your weapons, hockey fans. ESPN is going to be the exclusive media outlet of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. And despite all the cringeworthy "silky mitts" references, this is actually a good thing for the NHL. The self-titled Worldwide Leader of Sports has been completely devoid of substansial hockey coverage outside of the NCAA's Frozen Four since the lockout. No, not that lockout. The one before that. Okay fine, how about we just say since 2004. No, I couldn't have just said that in the first place.
NBC has done a masterful job of bringing an NHL broadcast back from its relative death during the days of the Outdoor Life Network--seriously, that used to be a thing--and will continue to through 2021. But with programming challenges such as
NASCAR, F1 racing, the Paralympics, and the English Premier League Notre Dame football games, they were unwilling to muster up the resources to give the World Cup of Hockey the full attention it deserves.
Enter ESPN, still the unparalleled live sports network, who will be broadcasting all round-robin, knockout stage and three-game final series matchups. It will serve the NHL well to garner ESPN's attention once again, even if Skip Bayless is no longer there to debate how much better of a goalie Tim Tebow would be than Cory Schneider.
SCHEDULE & LOCATION
One of the biggest advantages the World Cup of Hockey has over the Olympics is the ability to schedule it whenever the league chooses, which most notably is not for a two-week period leading up to the trade deadline. Now, as Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert points out, a perfect time to schedule an international tournament of this magnitude may not even exist.
However, planning a tournament for two weeks before the season starts is quite different than forcing the regular season schedule to come to a screeching halt so players can travel to South Korea to play games in a time zone 13 hours ahead of the East Coast.
Injuries can occur just as frequently in any NHL or preseason game as they may in an international game, so that risk is inherently omnipresent. But tacking on travel to the other side of the world can wear players down quite a bit more than a trip to Toronto, assuming you can keep noted bozo Steve Simmons in his cage for most of the tournament.
The World Cup of Hockey can succeed and build on itself if the powers at the helm learn from the most enthralling international competition in all of sports, the FIFA World Cup. At the time of this writing, the US Men's National Soccer Team is taking on Trinindad & Tobago in a 2018 World Cup Qualifiying match. Trinidad & Tobago! And people are watching it!
That's not to suggest that hockey does or can ever have the same reach globally as soccer. Of course it can't. But it can learn to grow the sport in affluent countries by allowing them to get into the same tournament as the traditional hockey powers. The IIHF already features annual qualifying tournaments, complete with promotion and relegation, at the World Junior Championships every December. Going one step further and replacing the annual Men's World Championship tournament, held in May and predominantly in Europe, with World Cup of Hockey qualifying tournaments would improve the international hockey scene as a whole.
This tournament is a way bigger deal in Europe than it is in North America for a number of reasons, not the least of which because of the timing of it. NHL fans are often either too frustrated to watch another tournament or still occupied by the hopes of seeing their team win the Stanley Cup. But could you imagine how the pressure would quickly turn up in Canada if because of an early loss, their World Cup of Hockey chances were temporarily jeopardized? That's one way to garner some attention in a hurry.
But the World Cup of Hockey qualifiers should be about letting every team get their chance, and then ultimately save us from having to watch Team Europe, which positively no one will care about.
Oh right, and then there's the money factor. Care to guess how much money the NHL brought in from those enthralling tournaments in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014? Take a guess.
What's that? You assumed any dollar value at all? Wrong. It was zero dollars and zero cents in the currency of your choosing. As it stands currently, the NHL and NHLPA is projecting to split $90 million in revenue from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, of which none counts as hockey-related revenue, a massive boon for a perpetually cash-strapped league.
The goal isn't to take hockey out of the Olympics, even without the participation of NHL stars. But it should be to shift control of international competition away from the IOC, for the sake of the most competitive hockey league on the planet. Make the World Cup of Hockey bigger than the Olympics. And let Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews perpetuate Canada's "Golden Generation" until someone can finally stop them.