November 18, 2014

World Cup Gamble

If the National Hockey League opts out of future Olympic participation, as many NHL owners want wish, the World Cup of Hockey's return may be the single most important project Gary Bettman and the NHL will have undertaken in recent memory.

After years of disregard the NHL, in conjunction with the NHLPA, plans to revive the once-proud tournament in the fall of 2016. The NHL has a lot riding on this venture, especially if they have to sell it as the Olympics replacement. That is an almost impossible task.

The NHL would have to somehow come up with a tournament of the ages, filled with drama and intrigue that certainly can not just be whipped up overnight. They will need another Miracle on Ice, another '87 Canada Cup, or a 2010 Olympics.

And even if they do, that only appeases to the die-hard fans they already have. With a September tournament (featuring gimmicky mixed All Star teams) they have no stage presence at all outside of Canada. At the Olympics the world is watching. Few people outside of Canada and the die-hard fans around the world will watch a tournament with no such allure.

I fully understand and appreciate the NHL's concerns about lack of direct revenue from the Olympics. The World Cup of Hockey, no matter how small the stage turns out to be, lines the pockets of the owners and players far more.

But in replacing the Olympics the NHL badly needs this to be a international growth machine, not another Canadian cash grab. They recognized this once upon a time when they replaced the Canada Cup with the World Cup. To the NHL's credit they fast-forwarded that international growth by going to the Olympics.

Maybe the NHL will come to their senses and stay at the Olympics, offering best-on-best hockey tournaments every two years, rather than dropping the marquee event. At least for the a while longer.

If the World Cup of Hockey is going to return as hockey's marquee international event, there has to be continuity and consistency, something the NHL has never done with this tournament. The NHL has to rebuild the history of this tournament in order to have a foundation for the future.

And that is where the NHL has gone wrong. They needed to have continued the World Cup of Hockey all this time while they have been at the Olympics. Had they continued to have grown their own international tournament, maybe they could more easily walk away from the Olympics, as the owners seem to badly want to do.

Instead the NHL may try walking away from the Olympics and offer up a replacement tournament that, for all their best intended efforts, is certainly doomed to fail in comparison.

As such the NHL and NHLPA have no choice but to get this 100% right. And they will have only one chance to do so. Failure to do so coupled with an Olympic exit will adversely affect international hockey forever. 

And that's not good for anyone's bottom line.

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