After much discussion and rumor, the NHL finally announced official plans to bring back the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, this time set for Toronto.
As the NHL proudly notes, this is a continuation of the NHL having a hand in international games that goes back to the 1930s, though the World Cup was last held as one last cash cow before the Lockout II began in 2004.
With the Olympics being as money-driven as your next entity, and with the Winter Olympics 2018 taking place as far away (and thus time zone-inconvenient for the NHL's North American base) as possible, the incentive was strong to restart the Canada Cup/World Cup tradition. This one is a partnership between the NHL, the NHLPA, and the IIHF (which "runs" international hockey and tournaments, and has a big hand in how Olympic hockey is executed).
So Long, Slovakia. Hello, Micro-Euro Stars
Unlike the last two World Cups, however, the pool of combatants has a twist: There are eight teams once again, but Slovakia and Germany -- each of which went winless in 2004's three-game round-robin group play -- have been dropped, in favor of combined "rest of Europe" and "North American U-23" squads. Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and Finland return, but the other two are hybrids.
The NHL explains:
Team Europe will feature players from across Europe outside of the four European national teams already in the tournament. Slovakia, Switzerland, Denmark and Germany will likely provide the majority of the players on the roster, but others will likely come from countries with developing national team programs, but established NHL stars, like Slovenia (Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings) and Norway (Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers).
The players for Team North American Youngstars will be selected from a pool of the best young hockey players from Canada and the United States. Those players age 23 and under will be available for selection exclusively by Team North American Youngstars.
Is this a good thing?
New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak was pragmatic, quoted by Mark Herrmann in Newsday:
"If it was 10 years ago, it would be upsetting because we had a lot of guys in the NHL. But right now we've got maybe 12. It would be tough to make a team out of 12 guys."
Pass or Fail?
Halak -- and the NHL and NHLPA, presumably -- have a point. The selection of a mixed Euro squad has been controversial among some hockey fans, but frankly I find that more equitable, more interesting, and probably a recipe for better hockey than having a country like Germany play doormat for the tournament.
Plus, this way we'll see stars like Kopitar, the Swiss and Austrian contingents, perhaps a Danish deitiy, and any number of other standouts in addition to a traditional pool of players like those from Slovakia.
The U-23 squad I'm less sold on -- will this create weird run-ins and violence between "veteran" North Americans/Euros and their Entry Level Contract holding -- you know, because the PA and the CBA makes sure young players' earnings are capped -- whipper-snappers?
That's probably worrying too much. And maybe this setup will create some young breakout stars before they've fully taken over their own teams. Under this proposed setup, if it were held today, a player like John Tavares would be on Team Canada today, while his teammate Ryan Strome would be a sure pick for the U-23 squad. That's some theater, I suspect.
Anyway, what say you? Do you like the new setup? Would you engineer it differently?