A proposal to fix the World Cup of Hockey’s 7th and 8th team problem

International hockey has long had a bit of a problem when it comes to staging international tournaments: at any given time, there have only been at best, seven great hockey playing nations that could reasonably contend for a medal. Slovakia and the Czech Republic’s dropping off the world map in recent years in terms of developing players, paired with Switzerland’s rise in world hockey contests, means that we’re maybe at about six-and-a-half at this point.

Even if there have been seven elite hockey-playing nations, the eighth team has been a problem. Sometimes, it’s been Germany. We all remember Belarus upsetting Sweden in Salt Lake. Adding even more teams to the Olympics has meant nations as diverse as Switzerland, Belarus, Norway, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovenia have made it to the tournament. Still, we don’t have an eighth team we can be confident will compete up there with the US, Canada and Russia.

Preparations for the all-but-announced 2016 World Cup of Hockey are apparently well underway, and the NHL — who more-or-less owns the tournament — has obviously thought this through. They have, according to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, proposed a radical alternative:

The eight-team event is now expected to include two all-star entries along with the top six hockey nations — Canada, U.S., Sweden, Finland, Russia and Czech Republic — when it returns in September 2016, according to multiple sources.

The first all-star team is expected to feature the best players from the remaining European countries: Slovakia, Switzerland, Latvia, Germany and Slovenia, among them.

The makeup of the other mixed squad is still to be determined, although one idea being considered is bringing together all of the top young stars in the sport.

I’m okay with a “Best of the Rest” team, but personally, I think just another Canadian/American U-23 is making a little bit too much of a mockery of the concept of a “World Cup.” It makes the tournament look out-of-step with other international tournaments, and gives commentators on networks not televising the tourney (i.e. every jamoke on ESPN with a radio microphone) an easy excuse to dismiss it and mock the league and sport. Trust me, there’s a lot of “I only watch hockey during the Olympics!” sports people looking for an easy excuse to dismiss any sort of hockey outside the Olympics.

I have one alteration, and one better idea. The better idea is that either Switzerland should be rewarded for the recent talent they’ve produced in the NHL (their Olympic roster had eight NHL players) or Slovakia should be rewarded for the true, superstar NHLers they’ve produced like Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara (their Olympic roster had 12 NHL players). Dump the young guns idea, and let one of these two nations, if not both, play in the tournament.

I’m totally on board with the idea of a Best of the Rest, however, though I wonder if playing a mini-tournament of the sixth-through-tenth ranked hockey-playing nations wouldn’t generate more revenue. Here’s my idea for that eighth team: make it best of the rest, but with the one twist that any player not selected for the other seven countries can be added to that team.

Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to twist narratives within that tournament? In this format, if Steve Yzerman doesn’t immediately place Martin St. Louis on the Canada roster, he can go play with Anze Kopitar and Denis Seidenberg and the best of the rest. This team could take a shot on a kid like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, who may be too young to play on either the Canadian or American teams. Hell, what if you end up with the same weird situation Sweden did at the Olympics and Oliver Ekman-Larsson falls out of favor with the coach.

While yes, this team could conceivably become just as American and Canadian as I feared the “Young Guns” club would become, I think you could set rules that would make it not end up that way. A limit of five non-European players on the roster or something. That said, wouldn’t this be a great little dramatic twist to a tournament that — as it stands — might be yawned at a little bit by the hockey diehards and casuals alike as a bit of September frivolity as it is? I would love to see something like this, and I would love it when Joe Thornton is lifting the World Cup trophy over his head for the Rest of the World in September 2016.

About Steve Lepore

Steve Lepore is a writer for Bloguin and a correspondent for SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.