The NHL and NHLPA believe that an eight-team format that includes six national squads and two additional squads, Team Europe and Team North American Youngstars, will create the most competitive 2016 World Cup possible, with added intrigue.
Taking the above argument into account, and acknowledging its merits, we still have two pretty big questions.
1. Will fans embrace the uniqueness of the format, or will they be put off by it?
There’s no question that international hockey has thrived in the past on patriotism. Think the 1972 Summit Series or the 1980 Olympics. That was more than just hockey. That was billed as one way of life versus another. While those Cold War days are long gone, it’s still a big deal when the United States plays Russia, or Canada plays Russia, or the United States plays Canada, or, let’s not forget, when Sweden plays Finland.
Hockey fans are notorious traditionalists, and this is a decidedly non-traditional format. Some might even call it gimmicky. Or worse, a disingenuous attempt to cut out countries like Switzerland and Slovakia in the name of profit.
While the NHL’s plan to “include more of the very best players in the world who might otherwise have been left out of the competition” makes sense in theory, there’s the potential for those good intentions to pave a road to fan indifference. Because, if it’s not a pure best-on-best international tournament with the sole goal of proving which country is the best at the game, then does it really matter who wins?
2. Is it fair to the United States and Canada?
Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Team Europe will get to keep their best “23 and under” players. Why shouldn’t the U.S. and Canada get to keep theirs?
After all, we’ve seen young players make big impacts in major international competitions before. Drew Doughty for Canada in the 2010 Olympics leaps to mind.
It’s American hockey fans who should probably be the most concerned by this, given the U.S. doesn’t boast the depth that Canada does.
Looking forward to 2016, Brandon Saad, Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba, and Seth Jones would all figure to be strong candidates to make Team USA; however, their birthdays mean they’ll only be eligible for the North American Youngstars team. Ditto for Jack Eichel.
For the record, neither of the two country’s associations say they’re concerned.
“Our take, and I know in just speaking with Hockey Canada, we want to celebrate the players at the event,” said Jim Johannson of USA Hockey. “I think it’s going to be good for the development of our young players and theirs to play in that type of competition.”
“It doesn’t cause me any concern, to be honest with you,” added Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney. “The most important feature of this whole event is that it’s National Hockey League players playing as much as possible. The whole idea behind this is to show the very best in the world playing. The fact of the matter is that this is a unique perspective, blending a team like this, if you will, and I think that creates great excitement for the league.”