SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 15: T.J. Oshie #74 of the United States shoots on a shootout against Sergei Bobrovski #72 of Russia during the Men’s Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day eight of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Looking at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016

The World Cup of Hockey in 2016 has been years in the making and Gary Bettman announced during All Star weekend that it’s definitely going to happen.  There are some new wrinkles to how it’s being done this time around.  Are the changes for the better?

For those that are unfamiliar with the World Cup of Hockey, the idea originally started as the Canada Cup in 1976.  The Canada Cup was held in 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, and 1991.  The name changed in 1996 to the World Cup of Hockey and featured a USA/Canada final, which I’m sure you’ve watched on NHL Network 100 times.  The World Cup was also held in 2004, right before the lockout, which wasn’t all that memorable.  Other then Fredrik Modin having a great tournament.

Gary Bettman and Co.  obviously want to get the NHL out of the Olympics.  From a business perspective it doesn’t really make sense for the NHL to shut down its season for a two week tournament in the middle of February every four years.  Especially when the Olympics is often overseas and the time difference makes it difficult for North American hockey fans to watch games at reasonable times.

I can’t say I disagree with idea of the NHL getting out of the Olympics.  There have been some memorable moments, for sure, but it screws with the NHL schedule so much that a World Cup played every four years seems like a much better idea.  So how are they doing the World Cup and will it be as good as the Olympics?

There will be 8 teams

As opposed to the Olympics, which usually has 12 teams(3 groups of 4 teams), the World Cup of Hockey will have 8 teams(2 groups of 4 teams).  The lesser amount of teams will no doubt make the tournament more competitive.  Not having 4 extra teams to beat up on should ensure most games will be close.  We’ll miss names like Tore Vikingstad but that’s about it.  Six of the teams will be USA, Canada, Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

Team Europe

Here’s where the NHL lost me.   Team Europe will feature good players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Norway, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Latvia.  This team will be more competitive than any of those National teams alone but it just doesn’t feel right.  A lot of these players take pride in playing for their National teams and playing with players from other countries is going to feel a little different than it would with their own country.

North American Young Stars Team

The North American Young Stars is equally as strange as Team Europe.  It’s an attempt to have a true underdog in the tournament but hurts national teams in the process.  Because of the age cutoff(23 years old),  Team USA will not be able to select players under 23 for their main National team.  Team Canada will have to leave out players also, but they have a much deeper pool of players to choose from.  Then there is the question of who coaches this team and how the players are selected.  Hockey Canada and USA Hockey will work together on this but there will no doubt be some head butting.

I wonder if this tournament would have been better with just the six national teams.  Some players would’ve been left out but having national teams is what these tournaments should be all about.  The Canada Cup only had six teams in each tournament and it was still great.  And if you have to have 8 teams, Switzerland and Slovakia are worthy of having their own teams.

Each team will play at least 3 games

There are only 4 teams in each group and each team will play the other teams in their group once.  The top two teams in each group will make it to the semi finals.  This is a little different format than the Olympics in which every team gets to go to the knockout round.  With this format, there is a lot of importance put on group play and an upset to a power house could hurt their chances at advancing.

There will be a 3 Game Series for the Final

The World Cup of Hockey in 2004 didn’t have a 3 game series to the end the tournament.  But the previous tournaments, like the 96 World Cup and all the Canada Cups did.  There were some memorable series, including a couple Canada/Soviet Union battles.  The 1987 Canada Cup final between Canada and the Soviet Union is considered one of the greatest series ever played.  Having a series for the championship is always a good idea.

The Tournament will start September 17, 2016 and end by October 1, 2016.

Having a tournament before the NHL season is a good build up into the regular season and good preparation for players.  Injuries will happen but at least players would have a better chance at returning  during the season compared to the Olympics that are held in February.  We’ve seen a lot of players miss the most important part of the NHL schedule due to an injury sustained at the Olympics.

All game will be held in Toronto

Unlike previous World Cups, all games will be held in one location.  That makes the tournament a little easier for the  players, who won’t have to travel as much and keeps the times consistent for North American TV viewers.  It doesn’t make it easier for the fans outside of North America to watch the tournament but maybe those countries will get to host future tournaments.

Beyond 2016

Even though the tournament and the teams involved isn’t perfect, it’ll still be entertaining.  And who knows, maybe the changes do work out and are a great idea by the league.  The one thing I’d like to see come from this tournament is that it will be held more consistently.  The plan is for this to become an event every four years like the Olympics but we’ll see.  I think if it happens every four years, it’ll start to mean something and become a special tournament, like the Olympics.