As first reported by Sportsnet, representatives from the NHL and IIHF met in Toronto in advance of the Hockey Hall Of Fame Class of 2014 induction ceremony to discuss the 2016 World Cup Of Hockey logistics, mainly the status of the two final spots to round out a field of eight teams to play in Toronto.
While it is certain that Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Czechia will compete with national sides, much speculation was given to who will get the final spots without playing a qualification tournament, to ensure the top team from the “next wave” (teams such as Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway and Latvia) get a fair chance.
Now, it appears that a new wrench has been thrown into the cog – rather than have two final countries round out the field, it has come to light that something of a European “all-star” team would comprise a seventh team, made up of players from outside Finland, Sweden, Russia or the Czechs, thus avoiding the need for qualifiers, and allowing teams that may normally only field 3-4 NHL players to be on an NHL-caliber roster. Rumours also have the eighth and final spot either going to a “young stars” team made up of global rookies, or even a North American “all star” B-team, made up of Canadian and American players that did not make the first team squads.
While there is certainly much more details to be provided before any of this information can be considered concrete, it certainly marks a momentous shift from the traditional Canada / World Cup tournaments the NHL and NHLPA have put on in the past, which have always followed the traditional Olympic / World Championship model of teams playing under national banners. While the fact that the NHL wants the tournament to be theirs and theirs alone, and having teams like Slovakia and Latvia depending on non-NHL players from European leagues, namely the KHL, to round out their roster, could not fit into their plan for absolute control.
The NHL is no stranger to trying to spice up their product to attract a wider audience – this idea brings to mind the new “fantasy draft” format adopted by the NHL All-Star Game, in the context of the two new non-national teams. And while it may perhaps draw in outside interests, to hockey purists (such as this writer) it certainly brings up some difficulty in adopting. While the argument of “best on best” is almost guaranteed to be an impossibility in this tournament, due to no participation beyond the NHL, besides the purist argument of pitting nation vs. nation, one also begs the question if what would happen if one of these “fantasy” teams wins the tournament – whose flag flies then? Do countries that only field 2-3 players on this all-star team get to bask in the full championship glory normally reserved for national teams?
While it remains to be seen what the final resolution will be, the hope, at least from the perspective of this site, is that emerging hockey nations are given the chance to field full teams to take on the world’s best – because after all, what are these tournaments other than the chance for history to be made? Upsets to shock the world? Old guards to fall, and new countries to emerge as global contenders? The next few months shall be interesting, to say the least, to see how the tournament comes together.