By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
So…the Olympics are ongoing and nobody seems to care too much.
The lack of interest in the current Winter Olympics boils down to several factors but we’re not here to dissect those problems. What we are here to discuss is hockey. Specifically ice hockey.
Team USA’s mens and womens ice hockey teams are doing well at the Olympics. The women’s team is scheduled to face Canada’s women in the Gold Medal game on Wednesday in a rivalry that just keeps growing with each passing Olympics. And the USA’s men’s team is undefeated through three games so far. Not bad considering the NHL pulled its players from the tournament less than two months before the games began.
It’s safe to say the NHL made the right call, but that doesn’t mean it’s players aren’t still annoyed about missing the chance to play for their respective home countries. The NHL has discussed reviving (again) the World Cup of Hockey as a means to placate the players.
2016 was the last time the World Cup of Hockey was played and that was the first time it had been held since 2004. Clearly it’s not a priority for the league. But it should be.
The NHL doesn’t love shutting down for close to a month every four-years so it’s players can go to the Olympics. And it’s been eight-years (2014) since the league has sent its players to the Olympic games. The players aren’t going to stand for that much longer. At some point, somethings got to give.
So, how about this?
Let’s make the World Cup of Hockey an every three-year mid-season mini-tournament. I know. I know. The NHL hates shutting down mid-season. But hear me out.
The 2016 World Cup was held in September at a time when most players weren’t yet in game shape. That’s not going to capture the attention of fans for long. I propose the World Cup be held every third February. And here’s why it can work.
The World Cup won’t be anywhere near as long as the Olympics. Plus, with the players in mid-season form, the games should be crisp and filled with action. Crisp action is what’s required to hold the attention of the fans.
The tournament should consist of six teams: Canada; United States; Russia; Sweden; Czech Republic and Finland. Those are the six countries with the most current NHLers. They are also, generally, the six best countries when it comes to ice hockey talent.
Let the six teams be broken into two pools, each consisting of three teams. (Examples can be: Canada, United States and Sweden in one pool. Russia, Czech Republic and Finland in the other).
This differs slightly from the 2016 World Cup as there were eight teams in that tournament. The two I’ve left out are Team North America and Team Europe.
With my six team setup the maximum amount of games a team would play is four.
Each pool would begin with round-robin play. For example, Canada would play the USA and Sweden once each. And the USA and Sweden would play each other once. In the other pool, Russia would play the Czech Republic and Finland once each. Finland and the Czech Republic would play each other once. Then, the two top teams in each pool would play each other for the right to go to The Final. (Example: Canada vs USA and Russia vs Finland).
Then you have The Final and then that’s it. Short. Sweet. To the point.
You may find yourself saying, “The NHL still won’t like the mid-season aspect of it.” Here’s what I have to say…
The NBA is looking to institute it’s own mid-season mini-tournament. Both leagues have obvious injury concerns regarding a tournament. But that’s not stopping the NBA from pursuing this. Why should the NHL let the risk of injuries stand in its way if the NBA is willing to accept the same type of risk?
Regardless of when the World Cup would be held the risk of injury is always going to be present. That’s the nature of professional sports. Again, if the NBA is willing to accept such a risk in the middle of its season, why should the NHL have second thoughts?
If the NHL is worried about disrupting its carefully thought out schedule, let me remind you, the NBA also plays an 82-game regular-season. If the scheduling can work for one league it can work for the other.
And finally, it’s not like the NHL would need to shut down for three-to-four weeks. Under my setup, the whole tournament can be played in the span of one-week. Throw in a couple days for a brief training camp and you’re looking at roughly a 10-12 day pause in the NHL’s season.
With the NHL’s quasi “Bye Weeks” and typical scheduling quirks a 10-12 day pause isn’t going to negatively impact the league calendar.
So, what do you think? Should the NHL make the World Cup of Hockey a regular occurrence? It seems like a good idea. Anything that brings more eyeballs to the product and helps grow the game is A-OK in my book.