How can we innovate International Competition with professional players?
Three quick facts:
The World Cup of Hockey has just finished. Even if many people were pleased by the level of play, the World Cup remains a limited success
We still don’t know if NHL players will participate in the next Winter Olympics.
The IIHF World Championship is in direct competition with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, preventing numerous players from participating in the tournament.
Something is missing. As a fan, one thing that I want to see is a high level tournament of pro teams.
Before deciding to bring back the World Cup of Hockey, the NHL studied the possibility of organizing the Club World Cup, based on the FIFA model. It would have been a great tournament, and would have brought new talents and ideas to the North American hockey community.
The idea is not recent. For many years, the Stanley Cup was referred to as the World Championship. Indeed, it was the stage for the best teams in the world to play one another. Nowadays, however, there have been no international games played by NHL teams since 2011: before that, a friendly exhibition competition, NHL Challenge/Premiere, was organized at the beginning of the season. Surprisingly, the two best leagues (NHL/KHL) played against each other for a total of three games. Although the NHL teams played numerous games against Soviet teams for the Super Series from 1976 to 1991, there were no games between Russian and NHL teams until the 2008 Victoria Cup in Bern. In 2010, the experience was repeated, this time in Russia and Latvia.
The only other major tournament, the Spengler Cup, does not include NHL teams. The event, unfortunately shadowed by the World Junior Championship, is the oldest invitational hockey tournament in the world. Many of the best clubs of Europe participate, including teams from Switzerland (the hometown HC Davos hold the most titles), KHL, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia and Czech Republic. In addition, Team Canada, formed by Canadians players in Europe, Team USA, NCAA Teams and AHL teams are also invited. During the lock-outs of 2004-05 and 2012, we were offered a sneak peak of what a competition including NHL teams would look like, with the participation of “exiled” players such as Joe Thornton and Rick Nash. The already existing format, and the fact that the tournament is held around the Christmas break, could be a launching pad if the NHL would like to partner with European Organizations and raise interest and potential around the world.
One disadvantage is that nobody wants to get hurt against HC Lugano if they are playing the Bruins the week after. And what was lacking in the last NHL international events was intensity… But with the arrival of the KHL in China, the NHL must keep its eyes open for new markets, and get out of a conservative business model that is only focused on TV rights in the United States.