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CLOQUET… The World Cup of Hockey tourney kicks off on this Saturday with TEAM USA taking on Team Europe. That will be followed by an evening tilt with Team Canada challenging the Czech Republic team. When this tourney was first announced months back, there were many skeptical fans, perhaps myself included. Since this was a joint venture between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association was this just a blatant money grab? Was it going to draw any fan interest? Could it eventually diminish or defeat any future Olympic Games participation by the NHL? Valid questions all.
Well, for the money grab part, it seems that the major comparative here would be the NHL participation in the Olympics. I do not have many hard facts on financial remuneration to the league for their participation, but I did find out that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) chipped in about $32mil to the league to help cover travel and insurance costs for the NHL players involved, but it sounded to me as if that amount was not commeasured with the actual costs. Factor in what the league probably forfeits via the regular season interruption and so forth, and the fact that the NHL cannot actually promote itself during the Olympics and aside from the feel good factor and the exposure, they are probably a financial loser for the league and the PA.
With this event staged by the league and the PA, they are in direct control of the revenues and as such, everyone involved benefits. Can’t say I blame them, it is a for-profit venture after all. Regarding fan interest, I am at that part of the off-season whereby I am reading more and taking in a lot of pre-season info leading up to the NHL regular season and eventual Stanley Cup tourney. I honestly wasn’t certain how interested I would be in this event. Dial in to last Thursday eve, Team North America versus Team Europe. I tuned in at Game time and was pretty much hypnotized for the rest of the game. Team NA is an Under-23 unit and Team Euro, made up of players from, I believe 10 different countries features several aging veterans of NHL teams.
Team NA looked young, fresh and ready to go, Team Euro looked old, slow and not so ready. Team NA won 4-0. Stanley Cup Champion net minder Matt Murray got the win. In regard to the U23 team, no one is going to be younger or faster then them, but can they do any damage in this event? They beat the Euro’s in a rematch 7-4 and revealed some inexperience and impatience. If they play the Canadian or American team and they start laying on the body, playing some “heavy” hockey, how do the young guys react? I have a gut feeling they are going to surprise someone in this tourney, but who will it be? I also feel that with the interest they are generating that this format will be left in for any future World Cups.
Relative to future Olympic participation, every four years I can recall the hand wringing by Commissioner Gary Bettman over things already mentioned, regular season interrupt, travel costs, player insurance against catastrophic injury and the like. Up until now they usually got things ironed out. So is the revival of the World Cup Bettman’s answer to being unable to negotiate anything more from the IOC and the IIHF? One thing I have observed from him over the years is that when an opponent, whether it be from the media (post 2004 CBA-lockout TV deals and subsequent mooning of ESPN) or the Players Association, when things appear to be getting tough, he bears down and comes out with victories.
I believe the league has been frustrated with the Olympic situation as it stands and realized they may not be able to alter them to their liking, and with the upcoming 2018 Olympic Games being held in South Korea with directly opposing time zones and thus the chance for poor TV ratings for the hockey competition, these are the perfect games, the perfect opportunity to say no. The more I think about them the more I believe these World Cup games are going to be a lot better then expected, and with all things favorable to US and Canadian viewers and fans we may have seen the last of NHL players in the Olympics. Would that be a bad thing? I’m not sure. On the one hand, with professional athletes competing in the games, summer and winter, we are seeing the best in their sports. On the other hand, when I was a kid, we thought we were seeing the Olympics the way they were supposed to be; true amateurism at it’s purest. That is until we found out that most of the athletes from the communist countries were paid pro’s.
I am of the belief that Bettman and his confidants finally threw their hands up and said, well, we tried to work things out with you, we tried to tell you what we needed to make this work and didn’t make much forward progress. When that happens, Bettman usually rewrites the rules or games to make them work the way that he wanted, obtaining the benefits and profits that he envisioned all along. That’s ok with me. After 2004 I decided it was time to trust Gary. He had/has a vision, he mostly wins, and the game and the league have never been better IMO. Right about now I am fairly revved up for this best on best tourney to commence! Let’s go USA!!!
DO NOT FORGET THAT on Friday the 16th the Traverse City NHL Prospects tournament will kick off. The Minnesota Wild will be participating and will play the Dallas North Stars on Friday, the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, resuming on Monday after an off-day versus the NY Rangers. Tuesday the 20th will feature the 7th, 5th, 3rd and 1st place tilts. You can check out the Wild website for a player roster and schedule, and if I’m not mistaken I believe the NHL Network will have some highlight coverage of this event. Wild training camp will commence on Friday the 23rd! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get this season going!! Lets Go Wild! PEACE