Gary Bettman’s Dream

Rory Conacher found himself on a New York City street. How he got there he could not remember. The last thing he could remember was watching the Saturday night NHL double header hockey games on the CBC and then going to sleep. It was very frustrating. Even with new number one pick Auston Matthews the Leafs lost again to the hated Detroit Redwings and then the Los Angeles Kings routed the hometown Vancouver Canucks easily. NHL hockey in Canada sucked.
Now he found himself walking along a strange New York City street when he noticed a sign on one of the buildings: NHL Head Office. Curious, he went inside.
“Can I help you?” asked the secretary.
“I’m just looking around. I don’t know how I got here.”
“Well you just walked along 6th Avenue. Now what do you want?”
“Is this really the NHL head office?”
“Of course. Now do you want to see Mr. Bettman? Do you have an appointment?”
Rory was startled at the question. He stuttered, “I don’t have an appointment but I guess I’d like to meet him.”
“And you are?”
“I’m Rory. Rory Conacher.”
The secretary buzzed.
“Mr. Conacher to see you Mr. Bettman.”
She put down the telephone.
“Okay, he’ll see you. Just go in.”
He went past her and opened the door. There was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sitting behind his desk.
“Close the door, please. Now what can I do for you, Mr. Conacher?”
They shook hands.
“Please to meet you, sir. I’m from Toronto. I don’t know how I got here but I was just passing by and I saw the sign so I came in. This is like a dream come true.”
Gary Bettman laughed.
“This is where it all happens.”
“It’s better than what I saw on the tv this evening. The Leafs lost again as usual. We’ve had nothing but bad teams since the Ontario Teachers Union bought and sold the team. And then the Canucks got dumped. Hockey really sucks in Canada right now. We haven’t won the Stanley Cup for so long and last year not one single Canadian team made the playoffs-”
“I know. Since 1970. The problem is there is not enough Canadian teams in the league.”
“But you never put any expansion teams in Canada. You always pick cities that have no interest in hockey.”
“Well you got back the Winnipeg Jets didn’t you? And right now I’m working on the Quebec City situation.”
“But you turned down Quebec and took Las Vegas instead.”
“Well I’m not going to turn down half a billion dollars. And Bill Foley is so gung-ho about it all. And I wanted the NHL to be the first to find out if Las Vegas is a sports town. They built a beautiful new arena, you know.”
“But so did Quebec.”
“Let me tell you about Quebec. There is nothing wrong with Quebec City and its arena. I want them back in the NHL and so does almost every governor on the NHL Board. I offered them terms back in 2010 and I talked and worked with the Quebec City mayor and the Provincial Premier. But I can’t have that bidder from Quebecor, Mr. Peladeau. Not after what he said about Geoff. We can’t have owners who make racist remarks about our governors and maybe other members of our executive. It’s unacceptable.”
“I didn’t know that. What’s going on?”
“Well right now I’m trying to find an acceptable owner for a Quebec City team. Why do you think Mario Lemieux is selling his shares in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Patrick Roy quit the Colorado Avalanche? I’m trying to put together a new ownership group and they may be part of it. When all the players are in place, there will be an announcement. Quebec City is coming back to the NHL. It’s just a matter of time when all the appropriate people are ready.”
“That would be wonderful, sir. My parents used to tell me that Quebec-Montreal was the best rivalry in the NHL. I can hardly wait to see it for myself.”
“So it was and it was a shame to lose it. That’s why I want it back. But that’s not the only initiative we have in Canada.”
“What else?”
“Well how would you like to have a team in Hamilton?”
Rory looked puzzled.
“But you turned them down when they tried to get the Phoenix Coyotes and you said their arena was unacceptable.”
“I didn’t like doing it. It broke my heart to disappoint all those hopeful fans. It really did. No joke. But it’s not my policy Rory, it really isn’t. Canadian NHL owners just don’t want to share television and merchandising revenues. There should have been a Hamilton team long ago. But I’ve had talks with some potential owners and with the owners of Toronto and Buffalo and something is finally being worked out as far as compensation is concerned so if everything goes to plan, Hamilton will probably get a team within the next decade. As for the arena, I’ve talked to the City of Hamilton and they are going to spend the money to modernize it up to our current standards. An 18,500 seat arena is more than adequate.”
“That would be wonderful, sir. Toronto-Hamilton would be just like the CFL.”
“Well that’s just a start. I think the southern Ontario market is so good that they could support even a third team just like here in New York. One of London, Kitchener, Oshawa, or second Toronto. But that’s for the long term. We have to get Hamilton established first. I suppose we could also have second Montreal if they built another arena. They used to have the Maroons, you know. And out west there is Saskatoon. The old members of the Ice Edge group still talk about playing there. I like the idea too. But that’s a long term project within the next two decades.”
“That would be twelve Canadian teams. That would be wonderful.”
“It’s on the horizon. It’s part of the new NHL policy. After we admit Las Vegas, we’re going to focus on expanding to cities that really love hockey. 40 teams is our goal. The NHL in the future will look something like the current NFL. There will be two conferences, East and West, each with 4 divisions and each division will have 5 teams in them.”
“That’s going to be great, sir.”
“There will be all those Canadian cities, I told you about. And in the United States, there will be Seattle if they ever get their arena and owner act together. And Spokane too but like Saskatoon that’s a long term project. But it makes sense to put franchises into Milwaukee, Portland, and Hartford right now if they make a suitable bid. Canadians can’t complain about those American choices. All those cities love hockey.”
“I think they would be great choices.”
“I’m still waiting for Hartford to do something. I offered them the same terms as I did Quebec and Winnipeg. I’d like to see the Whalers back. Boston and Hartford were great rivals like Montreal and Quebec. We need that kind of spirit, especially in the playoffs.”
“I watched the playoffs all the way through. What do you think of Pittsburgh getting back on top?”
“It was good to see Crosby and Malkin back. But the whole playoffs could have been even better. Not all our best players who could have been playing played.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well it actually has to do with medical developments I’ve recently discovered. Players who were out could have played if we had considered alternative medicine.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Remember Pascal Dupuis of Pittsburgh and Steve Stamkos of Tampa bay? They both did not play because of blood clots. Dupuis even had to retire.”
“It’s come to my attention recently that there is alternative medicine, that established medicine is trying to cover up and that official bodies like the FDA and Health Canada will not recognize that could have removed the blood clots without an operation. Stamkos would not have missed a single game and Dupuis would not have had to retire. The outcome of the Pittsburgh=Tampa Bay series could have been different. Medicine played too big a role in this year’s playoffs though most of the public and players don’t know it.”
“What’s going on?”
“There is something called a chelation remedy. It’s a process that’s been around since the 1950s that removes toxic metals from the body, especially from people with heart disease. Heart plaque is made of cholesterol and metals and I’m told this chelation remedy can remove it from the circulatory system without an operation. But established medicine refuses to acknowledge it. I’m told Linus Pauling was a big advocate of this kind of treatment. Anyway the stuff is being sold over the Internet and in private clinics around the world and it is said that it can clean out circulatory system blockages like blood clots within 24 hours. I want the NHL to have the best medicine possible and at cheap cost. So I’m ordering an investigation into the stuff. Heart disease played too big an indirect role in this year’s playoffs.”
“If Stamkos had not been out, maybe Tampa Bay would have beaten Pittsburgh.”
“Exactly. But that’s not the worst of it. Heart disease killed Gordie Howe. He had a series of stokes that killed him. I’m told that the chelation stuff could have removed the plaque in his brain. He would still be alive. His death put a damper on everything. It overshadowed the whole playoffs.”
“Gordie Howe would still be alive?”
“I don’t want that happening again. Our players and ex-players deserve the best kind of medicine no matter where it comes from. I’m having our medical experts check out this chelation stuff and report back to me.”
He paused.
“So you’re from Toronto. Are you looking forward to seeing the World Cup?”
“I’m glad to see it come back, sir. I’ll be watching it on tv for sure.”
Gary Bettman reached into his drawer and pulled out two tickets and offered them to Rory.
“Tickets to Canada versus the United States! Oh thank you sir!”
“My pleasure.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the games. My family owns a copy of the Canada-USSR series on dvd. I’d like to see the World Cup really take off. But there’s not enough countries that participate.”
“I know. It’s been a problem for the last 40 years. That’s why I created team Europe and team North America. That’ll get us through for this time. But for 2020 we’ve got to get more countries and they’ve got to play at the same standard as the teams we’ve got in the current tournament. We can’t have joke scores like Canada 10 Norway 1 or Russia 12 Latvia 2.”
“I agree.”
“Denmark and Switzerland have improved but not enough. We’re going to get them over the bar first. I want to see them and Slovakia playing in 2020.”
“I’d like that too, sir.”
“So for the next four years, the NHL and the organizations of the seven top countries are really going to invest money and experience to get those B level countries up to the standard of play that Canada, the USA and the five other European countries play. That’s the main problem with international hockey right now. There will be no more embarrassing mismatches. There will be a real expansion in the quality of play. We’ll start with the wealthier countries like Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Austria and Italy.”
“I’d love to see the World Cup expand with more teams that play really quality hockey.”
“After that we’ll get Latvia, Poland, Slovena, Kazakhstan, and Belarus up too. We’ll get them all up to our standard. I want to see a World Cup of at least 12, probably 16 teams.”
“So do I.”
“And I’ll tell you another thing. Every time we expand the NHL we get the usual diatribes that the product gets watered down. Well if we develop those countries, there will be more than enough quality players to stock all our projected 40 teams.”
“That’s a good idea sir.”
“It’s just the beginning for international hockey. After we get our 40 teams, I’d like to start a European NHL branch. Maybe even an Asian branch if China, Korea, and Japan improve. But what do you think of a European Conference of 12 plus teams that plays for the Stanley Cup each year? That would make it a real world championship.”
“That seems so far away. It would be fantastic.”
“It’s not that far away if we do our homework. Teams from Moscow to Paris. From Helsinki to Rome. The NFL talks vaguely about putting a team in London but we’ll beat them to it. The NHL will be a real world league. The World Cup every four years and teams from all around the world competing for the Stanley Cup each year.”
“I have a cousin in Europe who loves hockey. Wait till I tell him this.”
“You’ll be able to watch hockey all day long. In the morning and afternoon, you’ll be able to watch a game or two from Europe and then watch the North American games at their usual time. Maybe there will be games later from Japan and China.”
He glanced at his watch.
“Speaking of time, I’ve got appointments to make. But I’ve enjoyed discussing the future of hockey with you Rory. Drop in again.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Rory opened the door and then went down the stairs to the street exit. But when he opened the door everything changed. It all went dark and he found himself waking up in bed in his house in Toronto. He shook his head and wondered where he was. He tried to remember where he had been. He was in New York? He was at the NHL office? All those things that got discussed are going to happen? Are they?

Want To Embarrass Hockey And The NHL? Cheer For Europe and North America

If you are an anti-nationalist or are just plain tired of hearing boorish “USA USA!”, “Go Canada Go!” and other nationalistic chants from other countries that fans utter at international sport events, the revived World Cup Of Hockey has created two teams just for you. One is “Team North America” composed of North American players under 23, and “Team Europe” made up of players who do not play for such “big 7″ countries like Sweden, Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic.

North America and Europe are competing in the World Cup tournament because of the unspoken admission of failure to develop the quality of hockey outside of “big 7″ boundaries. There is a sharp drop in quality of play after the “big 7″ teams. In the 44 years since the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, only Switzerland and recently Denmark have shown any progress in icing teams that can compete effectively with the “big 7″.

By rights, the revived World Cup roster should have been completed with Slovakia (a “big 7″ country that for some mysterious reason is not being allowed to ice a team) and either Switzerland or Denmark. But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, mindful of the difference in hockey quality, created North America and Europe to spare audiences the usual spectacles of Canada 10 Norway 1, Russia 12 Austria 2, USA 8 Latvia 3, etc. So instead we will see Sweden 5 Europe 3, USA 6, North America 4, much more competitive games.

But one thing North America and Europe are not supposed to do is win. These two teams are competing simply to prevent the embarrassments listed above. At the end of the tournament, they will receive a pat on the head for a good dog’s day’s work done when they finish in the expected 7th and 8th position. That is all that is expected of them.

But what would really be fitting and embarrassing is for these two teams – Europe in particular – to do well in this tournament. The revived World Cup in its current format is simply an admission that the NHL and the “big 7″ have done a poor job in four decades of improving the quality of hockey played around the world. After the 1972 tournament, there were frequent boasts that if hockey continued to develop, it would soon be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But now even curling has more competitive teams than hockey in world play.

There are no shortage of teams and hockey players. There are 50 ranked countries in hockey competition. But the same 7 countries remain in the top 7 positions just as they did back in 1972.

At a recent press conference, Commissioner Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr outlined future developments for international hockey with the conspicuous absence of any concrete plans to improve the quality of international play. The best they could say was that Boston and Los Angeles were hosting clinics for Chinese players. But China is ranked 37th, a long way off from icing a competitive team against even the “B” ranked teams, let alone the “big 7″.

What the NHL and the “big 7″ should be doing is creating concrete plans to improve the caliber of play for the large number of countries stuck at the “B level” of play; Switzerland, Denmark, France, Latvia, Germany, Austria, Norway, Kazakhstan, Italy, Belarus, Poland, and Slovenia. These are the countries whose development can help World Cup play right now. It is from these countries plus Slovakia that will compose the roster of Team Europe.

In the four decades since 1972, this group of countries remain stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels playing a brand of hockey that is below the caliber of the “big 7″. So this tournament is a chance to see if a combined effort might produce a competitive team.

It would great if this team did well in the tournament, a chance to embarrass the NHL and the “big 7″ for the little they have done in 44 years. Of course if either Europe and North America won, Bettman will be glad to accept all the praise for his “good idea”, but it will not hide the fact that hockey is still not being properly developed internationally.

I don’t know about you but I’m partial to having a Europe-North America Final just to see what the consequences might be. I’ll be happy to fly the imaginary Europe and North American flags. And if it does finally lead to real plans that can actually improve the quality of hockey in other countries, so that in 2020 a real World Cup can be staged with 12 or even 16 competitive teams, so much the better.

Russia, Ovechkin Under The Gun At The World Cup

If Canadians would suspend their irrational pressure on the host country at the upcoming revived World Cup (Team Canada always has the most pressure on it at major international hockey tournaments) for just a few moments, they would understand that the country that really deserves the most pressure and expectation on it is not their own team but Russia. And the player who probably deserves most of the upcoming heat is Alexander Ovechkin – again.

This writer has scourged Ovechkin over the coals for several years now, mostly about his Washington Capital record. Ovechkin has loads of glorious individual awards, scoring titles, Hart trophies, etc., but his team record is horrible. The Washington Capitals with Ovechkin have yet to play in an Eastern Conference Final let alone compete for the Stanley Cup. This year the team with the most pressure on it was dispatched in six games in the second round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins – despite Ovechkin and his colleague Nicklas Backstrom outplaying their rivals, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin – and after running away with the President’s Trophy. Somehow with Ovechkin, Washington still finds ways to lose. Ovechkin is not the heir of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux but Marcel Dionne, who had a similar NHL career.

But even worse is Ovechkin’s international record. The “Ovechkin era” in Russian/Soviet hockey has been the worst since the Russians/Soviets began playing against NHL competition in 1972. At the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Russia lost in the quarter finals to Canada 7-3 which was probably the worst game this writer has ever seen a Russian/Soviet team play against Canada.

Even worse was another quarter final loss in 2014 on home ice at the Sochi Olympics, this time to Finland 3-1. The “Ovechkin era” in Russian hockey has been horrible, a steep fall for a country that was usually ranked #2 in international hockey tournaments behind only Canada if not the favored #1 team. Now Russia is just one of the group of “big 7″ countries, not picked to win the upcoming World Cup or even feared like they used to be. And since Ovechkin is the main guy on the team, like he is in Washington, the pressure and the attention naturally falls on him.

Hopefully for Russia, being the underdog for once will help the team’s fortunes. Another blatant setback for Russia should mean a lot of soul searching and another black mark on Ovechkin’s tattered belt. At the very least this team has to get to the semi-finals and win some sort of medal. Sweden, Finland, the United States and Czech Republic can go home and lick their wounds if they lose. Canada and Russia will return in the dismal depths of despair if they fail.

This may be Ovechkin’s last chance to make a significant mark internationally. He is already past his physical prime and the next major international competition will be the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea if the NHL decides to participate. He has to be desperate to get some sort of team triumph both with Russia and with Washington. He does not want to be ranked with Marcel Dionne as the best player in NHL history whose team career amounted to mediocrity. But that is how history will judge him if Russia and Washington continue to find ways to ignominiously lose, starting with this revived World Cup.

Pressure On Canada To Win The World Cup

Canada is always the country which has the most pressure on it to win international hockey tournaments, be they professional, junior, or women. As the main originator of the game we all love and the original source of development for the NHL, Canadian hockey fans regard it almost as a divine duty to be just a little bit better than the other six great powers of the “big 7″, Sweden, Finland, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

But for this World Cup there is added pressure. For a start, this is the first World Cup since 2004. Canada won that tournament after a tough 3-2 victory over Finland in the Final. In the long 12 years since the last tournament no one knows except for the Olympic competition whether Canada’s best players are still tops in the world.

But what really puts added pressure on Canada this year is the result of the 2015-16 NHL season where not one Canadian franchise made the playoffs, a humiliating fate that had not occurred since 1970. Sure it can be blamed on the odds – American franchises outnumber Canadian ones 23-7 – the NHL draft, the Canadian dollar, etc., but coupled with the fact that a Canadian NHL franchise has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, these top international competitions like the World Cup and the Olympics are the only way Canadians can reassure themselves that they are still the best hockey playing country in the world.

The World Cup and the Olympics are the only times when the absolute best of all Canada’s hockey talents come together to prove they are the best in the world. Sidney Crosby may play for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jonathan Toews may play for the Chicago Blackhawks, American franchises in the NHL, but now they are on one team playing for Canada. And the ghosts from the past will be on them. Bobby Orr at the first Canada Cup in 1976, and then later Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. All this will be felt by every player on Canada. They carry a burden no other team in these events has.

A bad result for Canada in this tournament, especially on home ice in Toronto, and there may be talk at official levels, in the press, and privately among the Canadian public about the decline of Canadian hockey. Canada has a type of collective “inferiority complex”; they do not like boasting and bragging, especially among themselves, though they do love praise from others, particularly from American television commentators – except in hockey. There they are the experts, the know-it-alls. Canada knows everything there is to know about hockey. They regard it as “our game” (though surprisingly curling is supposed to be officially Canada’s national sport). A torrent of excuses and self analysis will follow if there is anything less than victory or (horrors!) an early exit from the tournament.

So there is a lot at stake for Canada in this tournament, more than any other team. The rest of the teams can go home if they lose this tournament, suck it up and try to be better for 2020. But for Canada, if they lose this tournament, there will be a neurotic trauma that will haunt them for the next four years.

Bettman and Fehr Talk International Hockey Dreams – Not Its Problems

On the eve of the first NHL revived World Cup in 12 years, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr talked about NHL International Hockey developments. They talked about using the momentum building off the upcoming tournament to spark new international hockey initiatives.

They talked about a return of NHL exhibition and regular season games in other countries. They talked about staging future World Cups in other countries. They talked about future NHL Olympics participation. They talked about introducing a Ryder-Cup style international tournament. All commendable and welcomed. But they did not talk about international hockey’s worst problem; quality.

Since the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, there have been 7 “great powers” in international hockey; Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. After that there is a sharp drop in the caliber of play. In the 44 years since 1972, only Switzerland and recently Denmark have shown any improvement in the caliber of play, dismal results for four decades of potential improvement and expansion in international hockey. Back in 1972, after the amazing Canada-USSR tournament, there were boasts that hockey would one day be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. The results of the past 44 years show that they are still at the starting point.

The upcoming World Cup is an open display of international failure. There are only 6 countries participating and Slovakia is not even being allowed to ice a team. At international tournaments where more than the “big 7″ participate, when one of the “big 7″ plays a “B level” country, in too many times to count, the result is likely to be a boring mismatch in which the “big 7″ team scores double digit goals. So to prevent such embarrassments in the upcoming World Cup, Bettman has created “Team Europe” composed of players from every other European country, and “Team North America” composed of North American NHL players under 23 years of age. It’s a bandage at best. It does not expand international hockey and it does not improve the quality of play. It is an open admission of failure to develop hockey in four decades.

The only reference to improved quality of play mentioned was when Bettman and Fehr talked about the Boston Bruins hosting clinics in China, the Los Angeles Kings hosting Chinese players at clinics in California, and the New York Islanders drafting a Chinese player in the 6th round of the 2015 draft. In focusing on China, it is obvious that money talks. Of course China is potentially the richest international hockey market in the world. The problem with choosing China is that it is ranked 37th internationally. Developing hockey in China is at best a long shot right now. It cannot help international hockey immediately.

To make matters worse is the state of international women’s hockey. Only Canada and the United States ice competitive teams and there have been threats to expel the sport from the Winter Olympics due to lack of international competition.

What Bettman and Fehr did not discuss are concrete plans to raise the standard of play in international hockey – now. What they did not discuss is ways to get the large number of countries stuck at the “B level” – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovenia, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Belarus, Norway – over the hump of mediocrity so that there can be a real expansion of competition in future World Cups and other international tournaments. Raising the level of play in these countries can help international hockey right now. Future World Cups should have 12, even 16 teams competing, all with a good chance to win it all. Getting the countries that are just below the “big 7″ in caliber of play up to equal status should be the number one job of international hockey right now.

If the NHL and the “big 7″ really want international hockey to grow they have to formulate concrete plans to raise the standard of play. It cannot be just occasional sporadic clinics but something continuous that brings immediate positive results. And while it is commendable to raise the standard of play in China and other lower level countries, these are long term developments and does not solve international hockey’s immediate needs. Raising the quality of play in those countries who can help you now should be the first priority.

All the exciting developments that Bettman and Fehr talked about are welcome news to international hockey fans, but quality of play is still the big albatross hanging around international hockey’s neck. When the day comes when Bettman and Fehr call a press conference where they lay out plans to really improve the quality of play in the “B level” countries, that will be a real, significant development, a revolution in international hockey. For now, all true international hockey fans can do is say, “All very nice”, and smile.

NHL Revived World Cup Cannot Remain As It Is

Now that the NHL has brought back the World Cup and plans to hold it every four years, the question is how to develop it because the current format is unsuitable. Compared to soccer’s World Cup and even to curling’s World Championship, hockey’s World Cup is pathetic. But the good news is that it has the potential to be something really significant on the international sports scene and just to get it back after twelve years in the wilderness is a step in the right direction.

Right now there are 7 “great powers” in hockey, Canada, USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, and Slovakia is not even being allowed to ice a team. Instead there will be two made-for-competition teams, one called “Europe” which consists of players from every other European country, and “North America”, a team made up of North American players under 23 years of age.

The tournament in the current format is actually an admission of four decades of failure to develop international hockey since the famous Canada-USSR contest of 1972. Immediately after that thrilling event, there were boasts that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world after soccer but after 44 years, the same 7 countries rule the hockey world. After the “big 7″ there is a sharp drop-off in the quality of hockey played internationally. Only in Switzerland and recently Denmark has there been any development in the direction of quality to ice a competitive team in tournaments like the World Cup.

Usually in tournaments where more countries than the “big 7″ compete, when a “big 7″ team plays a “B level” team in the opening round robin, the result is a boring mismatch, sometimes with the established country reaching double digits in scoring. It was to prevent such boring, pre-determined results that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman came up with the idea of Team Europe and Team North America.

But this can only be a temporary bandage. A “World Cup” that only has 7 competitive teams is not going to go anywhere or command much respect in the long-run. Even more laughable is the state of women’s hockey where only Canada and the United States ice competitive teams and there have been threats to expel the sport from the Winter Olympics.

So the hockey World Cup has to be broadened. 2016 is a good starting point but by 2020 there has to be improvement. No more Team Europe and Team North America but the admission of countries that play the same caliber of hockey as the “big 7″ and have a real chance to win the tournament.

There are 50 countries ranked in world competition but they vary widely in development. The most obvious solution is to pick some of the countries stuck at the “B level” and raise the caliber of play in them. That means during the next four years, the NHL and the national hockey bodies of the “big 7″ countries make a real investment in some of these developing countries to raise the level of play in them so that there can be a real expansion of international competition. Somehow curling has managed to do that; why can’t hockey?

Ideally, the World Cup should have 16 or more teams competing. Soccer’s World Cup starts with 32 teams. Right now 16 competitive teams is probably too high a goal to reach but a tournament of 12 competitive teams would be a significant development.

For 2020, Slovakia should be competing and Switzerland and Denmark should be developed further. That makes nine teams. Then pick some of the teams from the B level group (the more countries the better) and get at least three more up to the caliber of play of the “big 7″. Candidates include France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland, Norway, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Slovenia, and Belarus.

The World Cup of Hockey has the potential to be just as exciting as soccer’s World Cup. It is up to the NHL and the “big 7″ countries to realize that potential by expanding the competition.

NHL Revival Of the World Cup Is An Admission Of Failure

After a dozen years in the wilderness, the NHL is bringing back the World/Canada Cup last played in 2004 with the hope it will now be played on a regular basis, once every four years. It should be an event to celebrate for every hockey fan in the world who wants to see international hockey develop. But without detracting from its revival, the format announced betrays the failure of international hockey since the famous Canada-USSR series of 1972.

For a start there will only be 8 teams, Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland – and two put-together teams, Europe, which is supposed to made up of players from all other European countries, and North America which is being made up of Canadian and American players under the age of 23. It is the creation of these last two teams that shows the betrayal and failure of international hockey.

Immediately after the amazing series of 1972, there was recognition in Canada and the United States that European hockey players, particularly Russian ones were just as good as their North American counterparts and there was an immense demand to see more international competition between them and the best of the NHL. There quickly evolved the big 6 of hockey powers; Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Czechoslovakia, which eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

There were also frequent boasts that hockey would soon become the number 2 sport in the world behind only soccer. Hockey fans could dream of a truly world hockey tournament like soccer’s World Cup which currently starts with 32 teams.

But for all their talk about the promise of the future, hockey failed to expand and develop beyond the original 7 countries. In the 44 years since 1972, only in Switzerland and lately Denmark can it be said that the quality of hockey has significantly improved. When international hockey tournaments were held whether at the junior or professional level that had 12 or more teams, the big 7 would wipe out the other participants easily in the round robin first round. Most of these games against the lesser opposition would be boring routs in which the established hockey power might even reach double digits in scoring. Hence NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s attempt to avoid these embarrassments by creating Team Europe and Team North America.

But despite Bettman’s best attempts to make the revived World Cup more competitive, it does not disguise the overall failure of international hockey to develop and expand from the root seven countries. Slovakia is not even being allowed to ice a team, and Switzerland, the best of rest is not here either. These are dismal results for the past four decades.

Even more horrific is the state of international women’s hockey where only Canada and the United States ice competitive teams and there have been threats to expel it from the Olympics because of the lack of competitiveness.

It may surprise most knowledgeable hockey fans that hockey may well be the number 2 sport in the world. The loser of the A tournament gets demoted to the B level and the champion of the B level gets promoted up to next year’s A group. At the junior level there are at least 50 countries ranked so there are C, D, E, F, etc. tournaments too that are held each year. So there is no shortage of hockey players or hockey playing countries around the world.

The problem is that the quality of hockey drops off sharply after the big 7. As noted above, only in Switzerland and recently Denmark has there been any noticeable improvement. That is not much to show after 40 years. The “big 7″ countries simply have not done enough or cannot be bothered to spread and develop the game of hockey around the world to make it truly the world’s number 2 sport.

Even more embarrassing for hockey is the development of international curling during this time. It is now possible for even non-traditional curling countries like Korea and Japan in both men’s and women’s international competition to ice competitive teams that have a real chance to win the world championship and the Olympics. It may be an unfair comparison but curling has succeeded where hockey has failed.

If the big 7 countries would take the trouble to properly develop several of the countries stuck at the B level – Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Italy, France, Belarus, Slovenia, and Poland – never mind the rest, it would be possible to have a World Cup of 12 or even 16 teams, where each team has a real chance for victory and there would be a danger that one of the “big 7″ might get demoted. But for 40 years they have done virtually nothing and as result there is now Team Europe and Team North America.

It is often said that when the NHL expands, the product gets “watered down”. There would be no problem of that happening if the big 7 developed even a fraction of the B level countries to a competitive level. There would be enough quality hockey players to not only stock Las Vegas and Quebec but the next 8 NHL expansion teams up to 40. There is no problem with the number of potential hockey players or hockey playing countries. The problem is that there is no leadership from above that wants to develop them.