After almost a decade of hype, the NHL has scaled back its plans for ‘best on best’ international hockey in the most embarrassing way, with plans hatched for a four-team tournament.
According to media reports in North America, the NHL has abandoned plans to host a World Cup of Hockey in February 2025 and will instead hold a tournament featuring only Team Canada, Finland, Sweden, and the United States of America.
“We’re hopeful to have an international tournament [scheduled for] February 2025,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in Sweden last week. “We’re working with the players’ association on the construct of that.
“Then, after that, we would like to be in a regular rotation between the Olympics and the World Cup every other year. That obviously involves us having an agreement to go to Milan [in 2026], and that is still a work in progress.”
The NHL and NHLPA have been in talks to revive the World Cup of Hockey 2016, with negotiations intensifying after players were blocked from attending the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think at minimum, there are three factors that have impacted our ability to nail something down,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said last week in Sweden. “One was COVID. Two was the change in executive directors in the players’ association. And three is the political climate in the world in terms of the way some counties are interacting with others.”
Crucially, the NHL’s proposed tournament will feature only four nations, with Russia – which remains frozen out of international events by the IIHF – excluded.
If the plans come to fruition, the event would see the US and Canada play two games in North America, while Sweden and Finland would face off in a pair of games in Europe.
After the preliminary ties, the squads would travel to a single arena in North America to compete in the championship rounds, with the event completed in a seven-day span.
Why is the NHL under pressure to stage a best on best international tournament?
The NHL is under pressure to stage an international tournament, preferably a World Cup of Hockey, because it has been seven years since the sport’s best players represented their national teams and nine years since they last appeared at the Olympics.
The NHL has skipped the past two Olympics due to the coronavirus and economic disputes with the IOC, but pressure from the players has forced the league’s bosses back to the table.
Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Cale Makar headline the list of elite players who are yet to represent their nations at the highest level.
“It would mean everything to me,” said McDavid last season. “I feel like guys my age haven’t had the chance to play hockey at the biggest stage. The Olympics, World Cup or any type of ‘best on best.'”
The IIHF Men’s World Championship is not classed as ‘best onbest’ as it clashes with the Stanley Cup playoffs, blocking dozens of the sport’s best players from participating.
Editorial: The NHL’s four-nation tournament is an embarrassment to the sport of hockey
It would be fair to say that Gary Bettman’s NHL is not a passionate advocate for ‘best on best’ international hockey.
Actions speak louder than words and the commissioner’s attitude towards international play borders on contempt.
Allowing his stars to appear at the Olympics – which does not directly benefit the league in a commercial sense – is not a priority.
Nor is staging an international tournament under the World Cup of Hockey banner – which is jointly owned by the NHL and NHLPA.
The NHL’s four-team proposal is embarrassing for the sport and insulting to the dozens of world-class players and passionate hockey nations it excludes.
For any tournament to match the description of ‘best on best’ it must feature a wide field of teams, selected based on sporting merit.
Picture the outrage if FIFA replaced its next World Cup with a four-nation affair featuring Argentina, Brazil, England, and France.
The NHL promised that it would deliver a World Cup of Hockey – the wait continues.