On Wednesday, the NHL made official what everyone already knew, that its players would not be participating in the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. The move was inevitable, but still disappointing. It robs hockey fans of a best-on-best international tournament potentially until 2026 when the next winter games will be played.
That's too long.
It's time for the NHL to step up and bring back the World Cup of Hockey.
The World Cup is an international tournament run by the NHL so it does not come with all the same logistical concerns that made the league push to keep the players out of the Olympics in 2018. It is a tournament the league can hold when it wants and run how it wants thus allowing all of the league's players to be available for participation. It was last played in 2016.
Hockey as a sport has too much to lose to go all the way to 2026 without its top players getting the chance to represent their countries.
Alex Ovechkin is 36 and Sidney Crosby is 34. The NHL's withdrawal from Beijing could mean we never get another international matchup between these two, but it doesn't have to if the league brings back the World Cup.
But this isn't just about the older stars, it's also about the younger ones too.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, Artemi Panarin, Sebastian Aho, Kyle Connor, Dylan Larkin, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Juuse Saros, John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck are just some of the NHL stars who have not played in the Olympics. In fact, McDavid, Matthews, Eichel, MacKinnon, Larkin, Gibson, Hellebuyck did not even get to represent Canada or the United States in the 2016 World Cup as they were grouped into the 23-and-under Team North America. Draisaitl also did not get to represent Germany as he was placed on Team Europe.
Another four years will see an entire generation of hockey stars miss their shot at the Olympics and rob us of the chance to see them don their national colors and play in a best-on-best tournament. From a pure hockey perspective, that stinks. You can't let these plays go their entire careers without even having a chance to represent their country in a major tournament.
From a business standpoint, the NHL would run this tournament. It could be held in North America so there would be no issue with having to deal with 3 a.m. puck drops and you could generate revenue at a time where COVID has made that difficult.
The World Cup is not a replacement for the Olympics, but doesn't this seem like something that everyone can get behind? There are a lot of players who are right now facing the reality that they may have already played in their last Olympic tournament or that perhaps they may never get there. Veterans like Ovechkin and Crosby may be too old to compete with the younger stars in 2026. Other stars may be past their prime by the time they get even their first shot at the Olympics. I have to think they would jump at the chance to represent their country in a World Cup. Plus, while a World Cup does not have the history or prestige of the Olympics, a best-on-best tournament played in the wake of the Olympics in which the NHL did not participate would certainly carry a lot more legitimacy than in previous years.
Who would you deem the world champs at that point -- the Olympic winner made up of players from the KHL and various other European leagues or a World Cup winner made up of NHL stars?
If this were to happen, it would not be right away. The earliest the NHL could pull this off would likely be September of 2023. But with no Olympics, the NHL has an opportunity here. This seems like an easy sell to the players and an easy sell to fans.
If I could make one request though, no gimmicks. Team North America was fun, but it undermined the legitimacy of the whole tournament. Have a tournament of national teams play for the right to call themselves the best in the world. Give those players the chance to represent their countries, a chance that COVID has now seemingly robbed them of.