Although I admit to being completely clueless as to the detailed logistics of building an international hockey tournament, the general idea of it is not complicated. While actual hockey is probably best before the NHL season when players are new and teams have a chance to practice and shape themselves, players have shown a preference for the Olympics window. And the issues that the World Baseball Classic, as fun as it has become, such as pitching limits and a group of (mostly American) pitchers who don’t want to disrupt their pitching for the season, perhaps make the February window more sensitive.
Beyond that, get eight international teams together, divide them into groups of four, and let’s go. Even Russia’s omission from international sporting tournaments should not be a major obstacle. Enter Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia or anyone else.
Yet the NHL can’t manage it. Show on Edge Borking it twice.
If you don’t remember, when the NHL first looked to get out of the Olympics and didn’t get any money directly from it and created its own thing, they dug up the World Cup in 2016, formerly the Canada Cup, from the ashes of 2004. But it completely turned it into just Pranked the show by introducing two gimmick teams into it, the 23-and-under All-Stars team that featured rookies Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid instead of them. Facing off against each other as the No. 1 positions of Canada and the United States. It also contains Team Europe instead of including regular players in the tournament such as Slovakia or Germany. The manufactured teams have taken most of the shine off of it as a true international tournament. It was also held in September, when previous editions of the tournament were held, which didn’t really help it catch anyone’s attention.
(It also didn’t help that the US team was created in the stupidest way possible, but that’s another rant for another time)
The World Cup is a tournament the NHL has never been able to get right. She even had an American victory in Montreal in 1996 but was unable to pull it off. They didn’t hold another one until 2004, as a way to earn one last bit of profit before the Great Bettman Lockout II tournament (with another terrible American team) wiped out an entire NHL season. The NHL ceded the international competition stage to the Olympics, all the while complaining that they were not profiting from it while risking the health of their players.
They’re doing it again with this mix they’re whispering exists for 2025, something of a preview of the 2026 Turin Olympics in which they’re sure to participate again. While Gary Bettman is quick to claim that there simply isn’t time for a full international tournament in any window, that’s only because everyone has sat with their thumbs up their asses for so long about it. They did this mostly to see whether Vladimir Putin would be impeached or, more miraculously, come back to his senses and end the Ukrainian war so they could involve Russia in whatever they wanted to do. This did not happen, and now time is short.
So, they’ll put together this four-team lineup, hoping they can play three USA-Canada games in a 10-day period. Sweden and Finland will be included for that and to make it seem like it’s not a mini-summit series between the two North American powers.
As a warm-up or preview for Torino 2026, it’s fine. Fans will get a look at what each roster might look like a year later when it really matters and the discussions that come with it account for a large percentage of the appeal. Fans will be able to see these uniforms facing off against each other, and when Team USA faces off against a Canadian team, and Finland against a Swedish team, a hockey fan’s heart can’t help but move a little. It’s a preview tag match before the pay-per-view, really.
But that’s it. It’s not a championship and probably not worth stopping the season for, especially when February is a time when hockey can draw the attention of the sports world to itself with something like this. This will be over before it gains any momentum or traction in the public consciousness. Waiting for Russia made sense, at least to benefit from Russia-Canada or US-Russia history. But it was clear that wouldn’t be possible for a while, and the minor hockey nations moved closer to the major nations in the meantime. Even Latvia and Slovenia made the adults sweat in Sochi in 2014.
If it were just a showcase for the Olympics, it would be better if the USA and Canada played best-of-five games across the continent for a week instead of the All-Star break. Keep those in the right cities and the entire league will be guaranteed to sell out (Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Nashville, St. Paul will all eat this up and that’s probably not even half the list. Or get it all in Vegas and enjoy the building that’s been split 50-50) while charging the only game that even casual hockey fans listen to.
If they can’t do it well, don’t do it at all, and wait until there’s a gap between the Olympics in 2028 until there’s a proper World Cup. But not doing something well has never stopped the NHL from doing anything. In fact, it is a major doctrine.
Follow Sam on Twitter @felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social