May 12, 2013

World Cup of Hockey Returns In 2016

My very first book I wrote was an encyclopedic history of The World Cup of Hockey, so I take a lot of interest in any news about the tournament's revival. It seems that soon the NHL will announce just that after a 12 year hiatus (and years of bungling prior to that) the National Hockey League seems ready to resuscitate the World Cup of Hockey.

This is all a part of a much bigger negotiation between the NHL, NHLPA and the IIHF regarding all things international in hockey. That includes more important issues such as Olympic participation and a new player transfer agreement.

It appears the NHL is all but set to announce that it will take a break in their schedule next season to allow for players to participate at the Sochi Olympic games in Russia. This is no surprise, but hopefully the NHL made headway with the IOC concerning media rights and so forth. It is almost criminal that the NHL has never once been allowed to put a photo or video of Sidney Crosby's Golden Goal from the 2010 Olympics on NHL.com yet.

We have to ask ourselves why would the NHL bring The World Cup of Hockey back. The NHL has sure done it's best to screw this up. Last time they held the tournament was 2004, with the championship game on the eve of another one of Gary Bettman's lockouts. Prior to that they held it in 1996, revamping it from the old and much revered Canada Cup tourney.

The answer likely is because the NHL loves international competition, but has no intention of returning to the Olympics after 2014.

They do not like that they supply much of the talent for the Olympics at great financial and competitive risk and they get next to no immediate reward for doing so. Running their own show leaves them in full control though they will never have a stage as big as the Olympics or ever the Stanley Cup playoffs or Winter Classic, especially with the tournament returning to the late August/early September slot.

Moreover, the 2018 Winter Olympics are held in PyeongChang, Korea. There is almost no chance the NHL is going there. The 2022 Olympics have not yet been awarded, but unless there are some friendly time zones, the NHL will likely pass again. It seems highly unlikely a North American city will land the 2022 games. The Americans are focussing their efforts on landing the 2024 Summer Games or possibly the 2026 Winter Games. The only Canadian city interested in 2022 is Quebec City, though the lack of a world class ski hill puts them at a significant disadvantage.

The NHL, NHLPA and IIHF appear committed to having top level international hockey every four years, and that is a a great thing. But we can fully expect the 2014 Olympics to be the last featuring NHL talent for quite some time. The World Cup of Hockey will return, though it will be reborn in the immense shadows of Olympics gone by. The NHL will have their hands full trying to return the lustre to a dormant tournament that can never achieve the stage that they will be leaving.

Because of their previous mishandling perhaps they would be wise to bring the tournament back under a new name and somehow tinker with the format. They'd be wise to move the tournament to winter time. And while we're at it, let's get a new trophy. But most importantly commit to the tournament. Leave the Olympics, but build something special and lasting.

More on the Player Transfer Agreement

It also appears that a tentative player transfer agreement has been agreed to with all nations except for Russia. This is all about compensating European clubs that develop young talent only for the rich NHL to immediately lure them away. Transfer agreements in soccer are ridiculously large, and the European hockey federations want something similar. Historically hockey is nowhere close to those numbers. It is nice to see these club teams compensated, but it is unlikely the NHL will ever come close to what soccer pays. (note - one report suggests the NHL will pay club teams $240,000 per player).

By the way, do European club teams compensate Canadian junior or minor pro league teams or even NHL teams when a player leaves Canada to play in Europe? I'd also like to see the NHL better compensate individual junior teams when players are drafted. I understand they do this to some level but supporting the WHL, OHL and QMJHL as leagues as a whole is the way things basically are. Perhaps rewarding teams individually would encourage better development and create a better product at the junior level and later on at the NHL level.

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