Leave it to the NHL to screw up everything they ever touch. We had to endure Gary Bettman
and the owners stealing an entire season away from us during the 2004-’05 season only to learn absolutely nothing from this disgrace and then have the exact same thing happen for half of a season in 2012-’13. The next casualty is the once beloved World Cup of Hockey (known as the Canada Cup prior to 1996). Some of the best hockey in the world has been played in those tournaments and Canadians can recite lots of great iconic goals from these tournaments over the years such as Darryl Sittler’s overtime winner against the Czechs, Mike Bossy’s overtime winner against the Soviet Union in 1984, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux’s magic together in 1987 and so on. Well, I hope you spend enough time on Youtube to watch these moments because all we have left is nostalgia from when this tournament actually meant something. It doesn’t anymore, the NHL has taken care of that.
What used to happen was there was 6 teams: Canada, Soviet Union (Russia), U.S.A., Sweden, Finland and Czechoslovakia before they split. Each team would play each other once, the top 4 teams advanced to play in the semi-finals and the winners would play each other in the final for hockey supremacy. It was gold and it produced some memorable hockey. Even once the name was changed to the World Cup in 1996 the format was still done well. This time there was 8 teams, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were the split version of the old Czechoslovakia and a team like Germany would come in and fill up the 8th spot. There would be two divisions and a round robin portion followed by a quarter final, semi final and of course the championship final. It was still done up very well. There were 8 teams and all were pretty competitive.
Throw in some tournaments from the Olympics using professionals starting in 1998 and we basically had a high level tournament like this every couple years for a while………….or so we thought. The NHL scrapped the World Cup after 2004 and since then we’ve had some great Olympic tournaments every 4 years. So I was excited to see the World Cup coming back in 2016 until I heard that silly idea that became a reality when announced at the All-Star game this year that the World Cup would be made up of 8 teams: Canada, U.S.A., Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic………………..North American Youngstars and Europe All-Stars. Come again? What were those last two? This is a joke right? I mean, you don’t want to make the tournament a mockery, you want it to mean something do you not?
Well, apparently it wasn’t just a bad dream. The European All-Star team is made up of the remainder of countries that aren’t on that above list. Such as Slovakia, Kazakstan, Belarus, Switzerland, Germany, etc. It seems like the NHL doesn’t think Slovakia – with two sure fire Hall of Famers in Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa – is good enough on its own anymore. If you are Hossa do you want to play on a team that doesn’t even represent your own country? Neither would I. The North American Youngstars is a team that will have the best Under 23 year olds from Canada and the United States. It appears that if you are not 24 years old by September of 2016 you can’t play on the real Team Canada. Instead you get a chance to play on this gimmick of a “team”. Hey, you might even get a chance to play against the real Team Canada or U.S.A. Let’s ask Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel if that isn’t their dream come true.
Which leads to an even bigger issue. Canada, and the Americans, have players good enough to make their real squads. McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan Nugent Hopkins and even Aaron Ekblad would have been in the running to make Team Canada. Sidney Crosby almost made the 2006 Olympic team with just half an NHL season under his belt, so you can’t tell me McDavid wouldn’t have had a shot as it was.
So why is the NHL doing this? The bottom line is that there is more money in it for them. Those other countries in Europe such as Switzerland or Germany wouldn’t have a roster full of NHL players. There would be a few, but not many. The NHL owners want their own players there as much as possible. You would think Donald Fehr and the players’ union would object to it but why would they? More NHL players means more cash as well. I figured that the media would have a field day with this but instead I have seen a complete opposite approach. You would think the Toronto Sun or Toronto Star or networks such as Sportsnet or TSN would rake the NHL over the coals for this decision, instead it has been celebrated. What a joke! Not to mention what a disgrace for all of the reporters trying to sell this horrible idea to the fans. Maybe they ought to re-connect with the average fan again, because I see it all the time on message boards, almost unanimously the fans hate this format with a blind passion.
Why is this? It is simple, many of us can remember the 1980s and 1990s when the tournament was at its peak. We remember Canada and the Soviets with those thrilling end to end matches. We remember the tension and the memories and the nail-biting games. It means something to beat Russia or the U.S.A. However, under this format Canada might just play the “North American Youngstars”. Can someone tell me how anti-climactic that one will be? It will be a farce. Is McDavid really going to want to beat………..his own country?
Which brings me to another issue. Why aren’t the players lashing out at this more? Alexander Ovechkin had no problem telling the Washington Capitals that he was going to play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia whether or not the NHL allows their players to play. That made a tremendous impact. I’m not saying 18 year old McDavid needs to say something, but how about Crosby? Or Jonathan Toews? Or Steve Stamkos or Duncan Keith or Carey Price or Drew Doughty? We need these guys sticking up for the good of the game and saying things like “Hey, I don’t want to play in a tournament where I might need to compete against some of my own countrymen.” So far, along with the media, they haven’t stepped up and done this, and it is a disgrace.
I’ll tell you another thing, if the Olympic Games or the previous Canada/World Cups had this silly format hockey history would be very different. Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque aren’t on the 1984 Canada Cup team. Good luck slaying the Soviets without those guys. Lemieux isn’t on the 1987 team either. He scored 11 goals in that tournament, you think he might have been a big deal? If that doesn’t do anything for you how about this; in 2010 Crosby, Toews and Doughty are not on the team. That’s right, there is no “Golden goal” from Crosby, he was only 22. Toews was the tournament MVP. Doughty was one of our best defensemen. So we need the media to step up and put pressure on the NHL to just leave the tournament as it was. All we need is Canada, Russia, U.S.A., Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Switzerland. That’s 8 teams right there which is just fine. That tournament would mean something, but this format for the 2016 tournament won’t. Remember as a joke we used to build a roster with the players Team Canada couldn’t bring along? We’d call it Canada’s B team. We would laugh about it but knew full well that could never work because we can’t have two Canadian teams. Well, I’m not laughing anymore, it isn’t a joke, it is a farce.
Tags: Canada Cup, Canada World Cups, Czech Republic, Donald Fehr, Europe, Finland, Gary Bettman, Germany, Jack Eichel, Mark Messier, Mike Bossy, NHL, North American Youngstars, Olympic Games, Russia, Slovakia, something, Soviet Union, Switzerland, Team Canada