January 25, 2015

World Cup Returns But Can Never Replace Olympics

The underwhelming media and fan response to the NHL's announced plans to bring back the World Cup of Hockey is interesting.

It probably didn't help that the key introductions - namely the two gimmicky bonus teams, one of Europeans from nations outside the big four and one of North Americans 23 and younger - were leaked weeks ago.

But it is those two teams that have people dismissing the tournament as nothing more than a narrow-minded cash grab. The irony is the NHL has never understood how to generate tangible returns from the international game. This in-house production will bring in money for the players and league, but it is but a fraction of the international hockey market's potential.

Many have long been predicting a follow up announcement (likely still a ways away) that the NHL will end it's participation at the Olympics will come. The problem being the appetite for best-on-best international hockey has always been strong and perhaps it has never been more in demand than now. The fans love international hockey, and they want it at it's best.

The World Cup - and it's predecessor the Canada Cup - have created some of the greatest moments in hockey history (despite constant mishandling). I could even argue that the September tournament generally provides for better hockey, thanks to more training and coaching time.

But nothing can match the spectacle of the Olympics. It is sports' grandest stage. And hockey - but not the NHL - is king of the winter games. The NHL gets zero direct financial benefit from the Olympics - and that is wrong. Yet the NHL can not possibly walk away from the Olympics and hope this gimmicky World Cup will measure up, can they? No way. The Olympics cast too large of a shadow over all other hockey tournaments. The World Cup is most certainly doomed if it is to attempt to replace them.

Now the NHL's bigger picture plan might be to eliminate the gimmicky teams over time and grow the tournament to include more true national teams. If that truly is the case the NHL needs international hockey and more emerging national teams. As much as they might not want to return to it (and with valid reasons), the only NHL international hockey initiative that can accomplish that is continued Olympic participation.

1 comment:

Hallwings said...

Somebody get a Commissioner that actually knows how to do and international hockey tournament, unlike Buttman (I misspelled him name on purpose).