For hockey fans, the arrival of autumn means one thing: the new NHL season is almost here. But before the NHL’s hundreth season kicks off on October 12, the hockey world’s biggest stars will be in Toronto on September 17 to compete in the World Cup of Hockey.
The tournament was last held in 2004; NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced his intention to resurrect it in January 2015. He envisioned a spectacle that would help globally market the NHL and hockey as a whole.
To their credit, the NHL has created an intriguing and potentially exciting format for the cup. The tournament features a compact schedule with games being played almost every day from September 17 to October 1 at the Air Canada Centre (ACC). Games will be played at different times allowing diehard fans to watch all day, and the finals will consist of the two best teams in the tournament playing a best-of-three series, rather than a single game.
The NHL has done an especially good job of fostering a high level of competition with the teams they chose to include. Alongside the talent of Team Russia, Team Czech Republic, Team Sweden, and Team Finland is Team North America, comprised of the best American and Canadian players 23 years of age and under. Additionally, Teams USA and Canada consist of players aged 24 and older, and Team Europe consolidates talented players from the smaller European hockey nations into a single competitive team.
Sidney Crosby and Team Canada will be the tournament favourites following their Olympic successes, but stiff competition from a very talented Swedish defense, a well balanced and hard-nosed American team, a high-powered Russian offense, and a North American squad led by Connor McDavid will make for an exciting competition.
While the on-ice event promises to be entertaining, questions skate around whether the World Cup of Hockey can succeed and what might happen if it does. This tournament already failed to gain real significance 12 years ago; its success this time around is far from guaranteed. The NHL players participating in the tournament have a full season of hockey beginning only 11 days after the tournament’s conclusion, which may disincentivize players from competing to thier full capabilities.
While the NHL nervously awaits the possibility of the tournament failing, hockey fans worldwide fear that a successful World Cup could spell the end of the NHL’s participation in the Olympics. The NHL has repeatedly voiced its displeasure at having to shut down operations for the Olympics to use its athletes, and many speculate that the NHL could use the World Cup’s existence as an excuse not to allow NHL players to participate in future Olympics.
Regardless of the fears off the ice, the focus of the World Cup will no doubt remain fixed on the players. With so many talented players set to compete, the spectacle of the World Cup of Hockey will no doubt dazzle us. The only question left is, how dazzling will it be?