The World Cup of Hockey appears to ready for its close-up, again. The off-and-on tournament – last played in 2004 – was created in 1996 to follow the once Olympic-equal Canada Cup and is set to return in 2016, according to multiple reports.
While Sportsnet reported in June that the World Cup would be hosted primarily in Toronto – pending final details between the NHL and the NHLPA – a new report from the Czech Republic’s Hokej.cz had the tourney pencilled in for September 1 to October 1, 2016, dates that were nearly confirmed by NHLPA exec Donald Fehr at an IIHF meeting this week in Spain.
The World Cup would be held before the start of the 2016-17 season, a full year and a bit before the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The World Cup would feature the globe’s top six hockey countries – Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic – and perhaps more.
“We’ve been working with the NHL office and hopefully we’ll be able to announce all the details,” said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who hinted the proposed dates would be “the most likely” option. “And when we’re ready to announce something, we will. But it’s obviously something we’ve been talking about a lot.”
The World Cup might be a comb-over option for the National Hockey League, with the league’s Olympic status is up in the air for 2018.
The debate continues as to whether NHL players should be allowed to participate in the Games, despite its massive cultural and national appeal. With the Olympics taking place in February – in the middle of the NHL season – the league has been forced to take a two-week hiatus to allow its selected athletes to participate.
“In 2016 and then every two years afterwards, the World Cup of Hockey will be the showcase event on the hockey calendar,” writes CKNW’s Dave Sheldon, “bringing the best hockey players from the World’s elite hockey countries together for a tourney that will allow the IIHF and more specifically the NHL and the NHL Player’s Association, to run the show.”
However, as pointed out by Yahoo‘s Greg Wyshynski, the World Cup may have added a new opponent in the Russian-based KHL. Only the NHL and NHLPA have been linked to the potential tournament so far, meaning the status of other leagues around the globe – and their participation in the World Cup – is unknown.
“While a vast majority of Russia’s best players are in the NHL, there are enough in the KHL where it’ll feel incomplete without their participation – let alone without the KHL’s promotion and endorsement of the event,” writes Wyshynski.
“The World Cup would take place in the NHL’s preseason but at the start of the KHL’s regular season, which began on Sept. 3 this year. Would the KHL just play on in the shadow of this massive tournament, while players like Ilya Kovalchuk are on loan to the World Cup team?”
Still, it appears the World Cup is already a done deal, an inevitable anti-Olympics set to alleviate the shoulders of NHL owners – who don’t want to have a ‘John Tavares’ on their hands – while partially satisfying superfans who crave the international showdown.
“Mark me down as someone who would be pleased if NHL players no longer went to the Olympics, and instead played in a proper World Cup of Hockey,” wrote Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair on Tuesday. “This is an idea whose time has come, both economically and strategically – and, don’t look now, it might actually contribute to a healing of labour relations, as has been baseball’s experience with the World Baseball Classic.”
The NHL has suffered through four lockouts since 1992, with that year’s strike lasting 10 days. But the 2005 lockout cancelled the entire NHL season.
NHLers were first permitted to play in the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. Since then, Canada was won three gold medals (2002, 2010, 2014) in five appearances.
Canada has won both gold and silver at the World Cup of Hockey, beating Finland in 2004 after losing to the United States in 1996.