A year from now, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson will be trading in their Capitals training camp sweaters for a chance to compete for their countries in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, an eight-team tournament that will run from Sept. 17 through Oct. 1.
All games will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, with tickets available via Ticketmaster.com as early as Oct. 14.
Backstrom, who is expected to play for Team Sweden, attended Wednesday’s World Cup news conference in Toronto in place of Ovechkin, who is tending to family matters in Moscow and is expected to arrive in Washington early next week.
“It'll be such a fun tournament, too, kind of like the Olympics with all the best players, all the best teams there," Backstrom told NHL.com. “I think it's good that they put it here in Toronto, too. The buzz will be crazy. It's going to be awesome.”
Ovechkin, who never passes up an opportunity to represent his country, has already pushed for the NHL’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, saying, “I and other players will definitely come.”
Despite Ovechkin’s sentiments, many believe the NHL’s resurrection of the World Cup of Hockey, which was last played in 2004, is the first step toward a departure from the 2018 Games.
The eight teams participating in the 2016 World Cup are broken into these two groups:
Team Czech Republic
Team North America
Team Europe will be comprised of players from countries outside of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Team North America will be a selection of top players from Canada and the United States who are 23 or under as of Oct. 1, 2016.
Each roster will consist of 23 players featuring 20 skaters and three goalies. The first 16 players, including two goalies, must be named no later than March 1, 2016, which means NHL players will be spending the 2015-16 trying to be named to their national team rosters. The balance of the rosters must be announced no later than June 1, 2016.
Let's go on the assumption Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson are shoo-ins for Teams Russia, Sweden and USA. Who else could be representing the Caps in the tournament?
Braden Holtby's performance this season will certainly determine if he's in the mix with Carey Price and Roberto Luongo for Team Canada. T.J. Oshie's heroics in 2014 can't be ignored and he could also play his way onto Team USA, as could defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Marcus Johansson has a shot of joining Backstrom on Team Canada, while Andre Burakovsky could make a push as well. If Evgeny Kuznetsov continues where he left off last season it will be hard to keep him off Team Russia. Dmitry Orlov would need a breakout season to join him. Jakub Vrana would be a nice addition to the Czech roster, but only if he tears up the AHL as a 19-year-old rookie.
As for Team North America candidates, Tom Wilson could qualify with a big season this year.
All games will be played on NHL-sized rinks using NHL rules and officiated by NHL officials. The games will be televised on ESPN in the U.S. Here is the complete schedule:
Preliminary Round (round robin)
Saturday, Sept. 17
Team Europe vs. Team USA, 3:30 p.m.
Team Canada vs. Team Czech Republic, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 18
Team Russia vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.
Team Finland vs. Team North America, 8 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 19
Team Czech Republic vs. Team Europe, 3 p.m.
Team North America vs. Team Russia, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Team Finland vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.
Team Canada vs. Team USA, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Team North America vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.
Team Canada vs. Team Europe, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 22
Team Finland vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m.
Team Czech Republic vs. Team USA, 8 p.m.
Semifinals (single elimination; A1 vs. B2, B1 vs. A2)
Saturday, Sept. 24
Semifinal 1, TBD
Sunday, Sept. 25
Semifinal 2, TBD
Tuesday, Sept. 27
Final Game 1, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 29
Final Game 2, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1
Final Game 3, 7 p.m. (if necessary)