A few dozen of the best NHL players in the world gathered at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday.
Ostensibly they were there to answer some pressing questions about the World Cup of Hockey (WCOH), which is relaunching next fall after 12 years in mothballs.
But, as it turned out, they had some pressing questions of their own about the event – mainly on the tournament’s two hybrid teams, tentatively titled Team Europe and Team North America.
“Whose anthem will they play if they win the tournament?” Team Canada’s Steven Stamkos said of “Europe,” which will (of course) include all Europeans except Russians, Swedes, Finns and Czechs. “That’s what I want to know.”
“I wonder what their fan base is going to be like?” Sidney Crosby wondered of “North America,” which will be made up of only Canadian and American players who are 23-and-under. “It’s going to be spread out a bit?”
The general managers of these makeshift teams didn’t appear to know much more.
“What do we put on our jerseys?” offered Miroslav Satan, who has been handed the reins of Team Europe despite no scouting or management experience since retiring in 2014. “What’s going to be the name?”
Let’s call it a work in progress.
Here’s what we did learn about the WCOH on Wednesday. It’ll run for two weeks, during NHL training camps, which means up to 184 players – more than a quarter of the NHL – will be absent for a week or two of battling for roster spots.
There will be 16 or 17 games, including a best-of-three final, and they will all be played at the ACC. Tickets go on sale next week, and revenue from said tickets – which should easily top $40-million – won’t affect the NHL’s salary cap or become part of hockey-related revenues.
It’s extra gravy, pocket change the owners and players will split 50-50 and then divvy up among themselves however they want.
The money is worth mentioning because that’s a lot of what this event is about. The NHL and NHLPA put on a good show to rev up promotion, but it still felt forced, especially with the two oddball teams generating most of the media attention.
Players were also more than a little reluctant to say they’d relish battling for the World Cup – days before the NHL season opens – as much as they do Olympic gold.
“It’s impossible to replace the feel of the real Olympics,” said Zdeno Chara, who’s relegated to the mixed-bag squad after many great international performances with a plucky Slovakian team. “It’s such a special event in the world. This probably now ranks somewhere between the world championships and the Olympics.”
That’s the hope anyway. The most recent World Cup, in 2004, was such a dud that the only image that resonates more than a decade later is the awful Frank Gehry-designed vase trophy-thing that Canada awkwardly carried around the ACC ice.
It’s not expected to be invited back.
That event had the spectre of another painful lockout looming over it – players were in fact forced out days after the final – and felt like a needless, last-minute cash grab before the bickering began. Next year’s tournament will instead have to contend with constant speculation over the Olympics and whether NHL commissioner Gary Bettman intends the WCOH to substitute for player participation at the Games.
The best-case scenario from the league’s perspective is this tournament is such a smash next year that it has some longevity and gains greater meaning among the players and fans.
The worst case?
Players play the games as though they are preseason affairs. The young stars team gets filled in – a possibility given they don’t have a single No. 1 goalie to choose from, given the age restraints – and the European leftovers can’t compete against the more cohesive national teams they are up against.
“The point of view from Europe is different,” Satan explained. “Many countries are maybe a little disappointed that they didn’t get their own team. Now we all have to play together … It’s going to be a lot of countries. Our issues will be probably how we make a team. How we find an identity.
“Every other team has a federation behind them and some kind of support. Right now it’s just a few of us. We have to create everything from scratch.”
Unique is a kind word for it. Gimmicky somewhat less so. But it’s hard to imagine this will be as lifeless as 2004.
It’s also hard to imagine it’ll be anything but a pale imitation of the Olympics.
And nowhere close to a suitable replacement.Report Typo/Error