Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The 32nd Team at a World Cup isn't an "All-Star" Team

The World Cup of Hockey will be returning in 2016. It hasn't been formally announced yet, but it's a formality. The ability to hearken back to the old Canada Cups of yore, and even the 1996 World Cup which was a breath of fresh air for USA Hockey is going to be amazing television, and who doesn't want to see more USA-Canada games? The NHL and NHLPA have wanted to control a major tournament themselves for the longest time, and this is finally their avenue to do it. But there's catch. Once you get passed the US, Canada, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia, there are not enough NHL players to populate an international roster of say Switzerland or Slovakia (even Russia is a stretch) without dipping into the Euro leagues. The powers-at-be would like nothing more than to avoid that. So what do you do? Can't have a six team tournament, can you?

One team, according to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, is going to be a Ryder Cup style "Euro All-Star" team, essentially the best of the rest. So, I guess playing with the logo of the EU (even though Switzerland is not part of the EU so the irony will be palpable), Zdeno Chara, Jonas Hiller, Anze Kopitar will all compete for... actually I have no idea what. So that's team 7, what about team 8? The other squad will apparently be a North American all-star team of some kind. What kind? Either a cast-off team of USA/Canada rejects (I wish I was kidding), or a young all-star team, or in essence the best of North America's under 23 that wasn't already picked for Team USA or Team Canada.

If it's a struggle to fill out the 8 team roster with just NHL players for a World Cup (meaning countries competing against each other), then it's not a World Cup. It's a glorified shinny tournament.

An ideal World Cup would have the best roster possible of players from all leagues representing their countries, but the only difference from the Olympics would be the NHL controlling the whole thing instead of the IOC. There would be qualification for the 2 open slots that couldn't be filled by NHL players (3 if you really want to stretch for Russia), and players from the KHL, Swiss League, Czech league, etc. would be able to compete. Obviously, the NHL wants to keep this whole pie to themselves, meaning that this solution is impossible. The NHL wants to do something fresh and new to keep a little slice of intrigue about a World Cup... and yet it makes the tournament seem like a gimmick and money grab more than anything.

The Olympics maintain their intrigue because of the genuine country on country battles that take place. Winning a Gold Medal is one of the highest honors any athlete can achieve, and in soccer, that same feeling comes from winning a World Cup. This tournament would achieve neither of those things, especially if team Euro-reject All-Stars has to play a 3 game series against Canada to win the World Cup in Toronto. It doesn't really feel like a level playing field.

Since, if we're being honest, many of us just want to see US-Canada as we do almost every year at the World Juniors, here are couple of ideas that may be better solutions than having an "Euro all-star team of countries we couldn't fill out because not enough of them play in the NHL".

1) Just do a 7 game US-Canada super-series. Sure the other countries get excluded, but if under oath, most of us would say we only care about 3 teams in truth: The US, Canada and Russia. Since this Russian team wouldn't nearly be the best they could ice, just have the US and Canada play each other in 7 games before training camps start. Have 4 in the US (NYC, Boston, Chicago and LA) and 3 in Canada (Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto), and in 2 years, have a Canadian city host the 7th game if needed. Alternate the sites in order to keep it fresh. People would still tune into NBC or CBC and watch it because it's USA-Canada.

2) Make it a 4 team tournament. Lop off two teams if you can't fill them out instead of shoehorning bastardized all-star teams into the tournament. Just have the US, Canada, Sweden and Finland. Or, if you can fill out Russia, have them replace Finland. Or, if you're really concerned, make it a 6 team tournament with the ones you can fill out with NHL/AHL players.

3) Talk to the Euro leagues about them possible releasing their players or starting their season later. Sure they don't want to be dictated to by the NHL, but they could possibly be given a cut if this grows into something bigger. And, fans in Europe will still want to watch the tournament even if their league's players are not participating, so the Swiss League would have some leverage here, for example.

I've been awaiting a return of the World Cup of Hockey ever since the 2012-13 lockout ended, and the idea of another international hockey tournament has always excited me. Now that news has leaked that it won't really be the tournament that most of us expect, the excitement has been frittered away. It's not a tournament for national pride anymore, it's only for money. It was always for money, but at least if it looked like a real World Cup that fact would have at least been  somewhat hidden.

If this is the kind of money grab the NHL and NHLPA want, then I'd rather see ads on jerseys tomorrow, NHL expansion in Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Markham all at once, the league controlling all advanced stats on NHL.com... almost anything over this so called "World Cup".

FIFA at least hasn't screwed up the World Cup... yet. This wouldn't be a World Cup, it would be an All-Star game.

And no one likes All-Star games.

No comments:

Post a Comment