Five takeaways from the 2016 World Cup of hockey tournament, which started on a positive note; sagged noticeably in the middle; and then ended on a high, with Canada sweeping the event by winning six games in a row:
Price was right
When Canada chose its original roster, Carey Price was recovering from a knee injury that ultimately forced him to miss the final three-quarters of last year’s NHL regular season. Though Price’s credentials were impeccable, his readiness to play was something team management needed to monitor.
The answers came quickly over the past fortnight. With a perfect 5-0 record, a 1.40 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage, Price played exceptionally well in the moments Canada needed a steadying hand in goal. His return, and the presence of rock-solid newcomer Shea Weber, will instantly enhance the Montreal Canadiens’ aspirations this season.
Small ice is better than the international option
Most discussions about the size of the NHL ice surface – 200 feet by 85 feet – peg it as too small in an era when players have never been bigger, faster or stronger. But the Olympic size – 200 by 100 – also has its drawbacks. If they ever get around to standardizing the playing surface, a compromise between the two widths would likely be the best solution.
But in an either-or scenario, most players, even the ones groomed in Europe, would opt for the NHL alternative. “Everyone thinks it’s going to be more wide open with big ice, but it’s the other way around,” explained Swedish forward Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. “When you play on big ice, you have to play really defensive and not give anything up, so everyone backs up. I like small ice better than big ice. It’s two different games.”
The scheduling impact of the World Cup on the NHL season
Not only will league play start later than usual – opening night is Oct. 12 – but each team will also receive a one-week bye at some time during the season, so the players can theoretically get a breather. But in between, it’s going to be hectic.
When some teams sat down this year to pick the four mandatory days off per month required under the collective agreement, there were some instances when they couldn’t manage it. The NHL season – 82 games played over 180 days – is often characterized as a marathon; how teams handle its demands and the possible impact of fatigue on injuries etc. could go a long way in determining the Stanley Cup champion.
But the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton, at 37 the oldest player on the Canadian team, says he likes it better this way – and would rather be playing than practising. “Guys are in great shape. They train 12 months of the year. That’s just the reality of it. I think this event just boosts the guys who played here ahead of the guys who weren’t. I personally like playing every other day and I like the idea of having a bye week. So I think it’s better for me. It keeps the body going.”
As a post script, Thornton added: “As you get older, you realize you can take some practices and morning skates off. As long as you feel fresh for games, that’s all that really matters. Coaches … have been giving their players more time off, which results in better play, I think.”
No player saw his visibility increase and his stock rise the way Brad Marchand’s did. Playing on the top line with Sidney Crosby and his Boston Bruins teammate Patrice Bergeron, Marchand led the tournament in goals with five, including the dramatic game winner in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Team Europe.
On the eve of the tournament, Marchand acknowledged that while being an agitator or pest got him into the league, his focus more recently has been on becoming a better overall player. The past two weeks proved he has succeeded. On top of everything else, he signed an eight-year, $49-million contract extension to stay with the Bruins. Somebody’s having a pretty good month.
Whither Team Europe? What of Team North America?
Both of the hybrid teams showed well, and made the tournament more competitive, from top to bottom, than it otherwise might have been. But most players expressed a wish to play for their own sovereign countries in an ideal world, and that will weigh heavily on the decision of what sort of format to go with in 2020. Even commissioner Gary Bettman hinted at a change the other day, noting that the current format isn’t “locked in stone” and concluded “you must evolve or you regress.”Report Typo/Error