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January 26, 2015

NHL Should Have Retired World Cup Name

Why are so many hockey fans upset about the revamped plans for the World Cup of Hockey's return in 2016?

The reason is simple, though seemingly lost in all of the scuttlebutt. The World Cup of Hockey, too, has a valued hockey history. And hockey fans, the most loyal in all of sport, hate to see such things disrespected.

Take, for example, the American victory in 1996. American hockey loving kids of the 1990s grew up on that 1996 victory. In many ways it was their "Miracle On Ice." Now many of those kids will try to lead Team USA to another World Cup victory in 2016.

David Backes was 12 years old back then. Ryan Suter was just nine. Max Pacioretty and Patrick Kane were 8.

"The World Cup is something that I grew up watching, especially in '96 when the U.S. team beat the Canadians. Watching guys like Mike Modano, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter win that World Cup was pretty amazing," Kane said Saturday. "Hopefully I get the chance to represent the United States, and the tournament itself will be very competitive."

Canada easily won the 2004 tourney, though no one really remembers that event. It was overshadowed by the impending labour stoppage doom that ultimately cost the entire NHL season. The lockout started the very next day.

But prior to that Canada enjoyed some of it's greatest international victories at the World Cup's predecessor - the Canada Cup. Darryl Sittler's heroics in 1976, Paul Coffey's fantastic play at both ends of the ice in 1994. Bill Ranford's spectacular efforts in 1991. And, of course, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux combining to narrowly lead Canada over Russia in 1987, arguably the greatest hockey tournament ever played.

The NHL have lost all this momentum now. Eight and twelve year gaps of inactivity certainly was bad for business. The World Cup quickly disappeared in the Olympics' vast shadow.

Yes, the World Cup of Hockey has been terribly mismanaged. At least that tradition will continue going forward.

The World Cup of Hockey 2016 will not be a true best-on-best tournament. Canada will not have access to Connor McDavid or Aaron Ekblad, and USA will be without Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones on their blue line. Because of their birthdates, they will have to play for the Young Stars Team.

And I seriously doubt the NHL will permit the Russians to fill out their roster with deserving KHL players.

And, by the sounds of it, they will mess with the tournament format again in the future. There is talk of a Ryder Cup style tournament with North American and European all star teams.

The NHL should actually be applauded for thinking outside of the box. The NHL knows it has to do these in-house international tournaments differently to separate them from the Olympics in order to succeed.  But where they've gone wrong was in not retiring the World Cup of Hockey, and renaming their various ideas.

But let's not tarnish whatever legacy the World Cup of Hockey/Canada Cup still has left. Let's have all the variations of NHL in-house international products you can think of, but let's unveil them under an new banners. Give such new ideas a real shot at their own success. Let these tournaments have a chance to become a treasured moment in hockey history.

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