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Team Canada's Patrice Bergeron slides into Team Sweden's goalie Hennik Lundqvist the first period of the gold medal games against Team Sweden February 23, 2014 at the Sochi Winter Olympics.The Globe and Mail

In contract negotiations, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has frequently proclaimed the league's desire to be a true "partner" with the players in the business of the game. That appears to be more than just labour-relations rhetoric in one important area – international hockey.

Team owners and the NHL Players' Association don't agree on everything in that file – future Olympic participation being the most notable issue in dispute – but they both want to establish a long-term international schedule which could include the Winter Games, a World Cup every two years, the annual World Championships and participation in a club competition such as soccer's Champions League, all with an eye to selling the game around the world. Discussions have included making this a 12-year plan that would outlast even the players' current collective agreement.

Now that the NHL hierarchy has settled the nuisance issue of the dry scrape before regular-season overtime – on Tuesday the general managers agreed to shave a minute or two off the players' wait for overtime by limiting the job to what the shovel brigades do during TV time-outs – perhaps progress will be made on weightier matters.

"As I've said before, we have a sport [in which] 30 per cent of the players, more or less, come from Europe," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said Tuesday after an appearance at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto. "We have well-developed hockey markets, knowledgeable fans, professional leagues over there. You've got the international federation headquartered over there.

"So we have an opportunity [to sell NHL hockey] if we can figure out how to develop a real, long-term international calendar. You can imagine a wide variety of potential events that would go into that. But you have to start somewhere."

Somewhere, according to Fehr, begins with reviving the World Cup. While the NHL, NHLPA and the International Ice Hockey Federation have not officially come to an agreement on the tournament, which was last played in September, 2004, they are far enough along that Toronto is expected to play host, and the tournament is likely to be staged in the fall of 2016. Both labour and management are enthusiastic about making sure the World Cup becomes a permanent part of the international hockey strategy every four years for a simple reason – unlike the Olympics, the NHL and NHLPA would control the tournament and split its revenues 50-50, as per the collective agreement.

However, much remains to be settled, including the format of the tournament. A lot of ideas are being kicked around, including a harebrained trial balloon sent up Monday suggesting the World Cup would be limited to six nations – Canada, United States, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland – which slams the door on at least two countries capable of competing with them, Switzerland and Slovakia. In their place, the idea goes, would be two all-star teams, one made up of players such as Slovenia's Anze Kopitar, of the Los Angeles Kings, who come from countries that are not international hockey powers. The other would consist of North American NHL players who are 23 years old and younger.

The idea is to avoid some of the 14-0 whitewashings that occur during the Olympics when one of the hockey sharks plays a minnow. But at the same time, the NHL and NHLPA want to attract fans from those countries (not to mention their wallets) by making sure a favourite son is still playing in the event.

Judging by an unscientific survey of some players a few hours before Tuesday's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Nashville Predators, the all-star trial balloon will soon be flattened. All expressed enthusiasm for the Olympics and the World Cup. They all understood the idea behind the all-star teams, but were not keen on it themselves.

Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk, who played for the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics, noted that the point of these tournaments for the players is the opportunity of representing your country. A happy side-effect is selling the game.

"They should do it consistently with the World Cup," he said. "Look at soccer. It may not get to that level, but there are places that shut down every year their country plays. I think it's fun – those big tournaments that you don't have every year. You see with more casual viewers it helped grow the game, especially in the U.S. You saw that in the last couple of Olympics."

He would also ditch the all-star teams in favour of at least two more countries, citing the fun of watching Latvia throw a scare into a few teams at Sochi: "I like the fact you go to some of these events and maybe there's a surprise, some upset that shakes up the whole dynamic of the tournament."

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