Unless you've been frozen in carbonite for the past month, you know that yesterday there was a game which was watched by more than half of the entire Earth's population, making it without hyperbole the single biggest sporting event in modern human civilization. Unfortunately, that game was not a game of hockey.
Ice hockey may never rival the global impact that soccer has, but that doesn't mean that the right hockey tournament couldn't grab the attention of the sports world for a few weeks the same way Brazil 2014 has. And with the NHL and IIHF well on their way to using the necronomicon to resurrect the World Cup of Hockey, perhaps we'll finally be getting that wish. The only hold up so far has been reaching an agreement with the Player's Association, which means that A) it'll more than likely mean the end of NHL participation in the Olympics, and B) the League wants this to be more than the well intentioned but near meaningless World Baseball Classic On Ice.
And they're going to fuck it up.
There are three key objectives that the League and the IIHF need to (and most likely are) set as their goals for this mostly-new tournament:
- Turn the World Cup of Hockey into the single biggest international hockey tournament in the world - one which the players want to win as much as they do the Gold Medal.
- Use the World Cup of Hockey to grow the sport both in the US and in less traditional hotbeds around the world.
- Make enough money to swim in - and make it for everyone.
- The top 2 counties in both Europe and North America (sorry, Mexico), according to the IIHF World Rankings.
- The next 12 ranking European countries.
- The highest finishing non-European nation in the prior year's World Championships, regardless of division.
- The Gold Medal winner of the Challenge Cup of Asia.
- The two highest ranking non-European nations.
Under those criteria (as they're ranked right now), I grouped together the top seeds (Sweden, Finland, Canada,& the US) in one pot, grouped the 4 non-Euro counties in another, and made 3 pots of 4 each according to rankings, and drew them into 4 groups of 5 countries each.
Finland (top seed), Russia (Euro pot 1), Latvia (Euro pot 2), Austria (Euro pot 3), and Chinese Taipei (Challenge Cup of Asia winner)
USA (top seed), Czech Republic (Euro 1), Norway (Euro 2), Slovenia (Euro 3), and Mexico (33rd ranked)
Canada (top seed), Switzerland (Euro 1), Belarus (Euro 2), Germany (Euro 3), Japan (non-Euro WC spot)
Sweden (top seed), Slovakia (Euro 1), France (Euro 2), Denmark (Euro 3), South Korea (23rd ranked)
The usual round robin international rules apply (3 points for a regulation win, 2 in the shootout, 1 for a shootout loss, 0 for reg loss), then the top three teams in each group advance, with the group winners getting byes. The elimination round sees 2A play 3B, with the winner playing the group C winner, and everything fills in accordingly.
But even with the expanded field, this is still a new tournament missing the inherent value of the Winter Olympics. That is why we have to end full NHL participation in the Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics have been fantastic for the game of hockey, no doubt, but the biggest thing it's done is crack open Pandora's Box. It has shown that people have a craving for top level international hockey. However, having it in the middle of the Olympics inherently splits the public's attention. Hockey may be the biggest event to many, but figure skating, snowboarding, even curling all muddy the waters. Additionally, if there are two top level tournaments (sorry World Championships), that might split some countries focus, undermining the WCoH's "authority" if you will. The NHL and the Olympics have done great things, but it's time to move on.
The rumors of the NHL's plans for 2016 say that it will be held in Toronto, and I'd be okay with that, although I would also hold games in Ottawa as well. That way in the group stage you could go back and forth between two top venues, allowing you to play three or even four games a day without the games overlapping or having to play games in smaller arenas. The 2nd WCoH in 2020 would need to go to either Sweden or Finland to help bring the European countries that treat Olympic Gold as big or bigger than the Stanley Cup into the fold. The World Cup of Hockey cannot survive if Sweden, Finland, and/or Russia don't treat it as the top prize.
Finally, the NHL, NHLPA, and the IIHF would be able to print their own money if the WCoH became as big as it can potentially be. They'll get their solid gold toilet seats eventually, but for this tournament to truly become a worldwide phenomenon, 50% of the profits will need to be prize money for the national federations, especially the non-traditional markets. The farther a country goes, the more money they can then take back to their country to support ice hockey domestically.
And there you have it - the perfect plan for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. What do you think? How brilliant is it? Is it a great idea, or the greatest idea? Let me know!