World Cup of Hockey: Debating the pros & cons

The World Cup of Hockey officially gets underway on Friday, but ahead of puck drop, we debate the perceived positives and negatives of the upcoming tournament.

Reborn tournament has its share of positives and negatives

Team North America's Aaron Ekblad (5) is checked into Team North America goaltender John Gibson (36) by Team Europe's Marian Gaborik (12) during pre-tournament World Cup of Hockey action in Montreal. The two non-national teams are a first in the tournament's history. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The World Cup of Hockey officially gets underway on Friday, but ahead of puck drop, Benjamin Blum and Steven Tzemis of CBC Sports debate the perceived positives and negatives of the upcoming tournament.

PLUS: New teams more than a gimmick

Benjamin Blum: International hockey usually means the rivalry triangle between Canada, the United States and Russia takes centre stage, with a Scandinavian showdown as a solid subplot. This time though, there's two new teams that will make things more compelling.

Team North America, otherwise known as #TeamMillennial, comprises the best under-24 players from the U.S. and Canada and boasts a deeper than expected roster of several Calder Trophy winners and nominees. If there's one flaw with the team, it's that you can't cheer for them if you were born before 1993. Pesky kids ruin everything.

There's also Team Europe. This embodiment of geopolitics-on-ice features the best players from up-and-coming hockey countries like Switzerland and Denmark as well as a contingent of slighted Slovakians who want revenge for their country's exclusion.

Add Slovenian stalwart Anze Kopitar and three above-average goalies and you have a team that will be both entertaining and educational. Aside from New York Rangers fans, who knew Mats Zuccarello was Norwegian?

MINUS: New teams equal less national pride

Steven Tzemis: If this tournament is supposed to somehow satisfy our needs of international dominance in the event the NHL doesn't go to the 2018 Olympics, Team Europe strips that of all but four European countries. If you're Slovenian, you're cheering for Anze Kopitar – not necessarily your country – because your country doesn't have a team in the tournament.

It's hard to argue against a team full of "Millennials" because watching a bunch of kids take it to the veterans would be nothing but fun. The idea is ambitious, but seems more gimmicky than anything else. International tournaments are country vs. country. When one-quarter of the teams don't even fit the definition, well ...

PLUS: Perfectly timed

BB: The NHL runs from October to June, so there aren't many windows for top-quality hockey to be played during that stretch without shutting down the league, as they do for the Olympics. That's why a September tournament is ideal.

Players still get the months off they need to recover from a long season, while fans can celebrate the end of summer by watching the best players compete for their countries (or not, as noted.)

One of the reasons the NHL all-star game has struggled is because players want to use the time to rest ahead of the playoffs. This has led to key players dropping out of the game and taking away from its appeal.

The World Cup offers the top players an opportunity to get ready for the season with competitive games while still having plenty of time to clear their heads and recuperate.

Plus, what's wrong with having more hockey?

MINUS: Poorly timed

ST: The NHL season runs eight months, which already seems long considering it usually ends the week before summer officially starts.

Adding a September tournament is like eating another pizza when you're already full from the first one. Tastes great at the time, but you know it's a bad idea.

But whether or not you think the NHL season runs too long is beside the point here. If you love hockey and would prefer it year round, all the power to you.

The problem is a tournament immediately before the start of the regular season doesn't exactly suggest top-flight competition. 

PLUS: Avoiding the Olympic conflict

BB: The World Cup of Hockey hasn't worked in the past for several reasons, but this incarnation has a real shot if it carves out a time slot in between the Winter Olympic cycle.

Four years is far too long to wait for your country to play meaningful hockey. Soccer figured this out by having Euros in between World Cup quadrennials.

The key to this tournament's success will be consistency. The World Baseball Classic has struggled because of irregular scheduling and the opening rounds being played simultaneously in different hemispheres. Keeping the World Cup on a four-year schedule with alternating host cities will keep people engaged and able to plan their work schedule without messing with too many time zones.

The Olympics are still the pinnacle of international hockey, and that won't change unless NHL players stop participating. Should that happen, this latest version of the World Cup can fill the void.

Still not sold on that trophy though Just give out medals or Chevrolets to the winner.

MINUS: Definitely not the Olympics

ST: For sports fans around the world, the Olympics are where national glory is achieved. For example, Fiji winning gold in rugby 7s as their first-ever Olympic gold medal last month was beautiful to watch.

It's up in the air whether the NHL plays in the 2018 Games and beyond, but even if do keep going, bridging the four-year gap with the World Cup would fail to fill the hunger for international hockey because it feels almost like a giant all-star tournament instead of a flag-raising honour.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, because people love watching the best players in the world play. But the emotion of cheering on your country may not be as strong, leaving international fans unsatisfied during what's supposed to be a bridge tournament.

Excited for the tournament to begin? Vote below.


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