NHL World Cup of Hockey 2016: Everything you need to know about teams, format

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces the return of the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 during an hockey press conference at Nationwide Arena Saaturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. The World Cup tournament will include eight teams and will be played in Toronto next September, before the beginning of NHL training camps. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Before announcing the return of the World Cup of Hockey, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman showed a highlight reel of past World Cups. The Canada Cups of the 1980s. The American’s World Cup win in 1996. History being made. 

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which will run at the Air Canada Centre from Sept. 17 to as late as Oct. 1, is seen by many critics as a “World Cup In Name Only.” Nostalgia for those moments can’t quite square with the product presented by the NHL on Saturday afternoon in Columbus, which features six nation teams, a “rest of Europe” all-star team and a team made up of 23-years-old-and-younger players from the U.S. and Canada.

“We think this will prove to be the most competitive tournament of this type ever played,” said Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, before ripping off his suit and diving into a swimming pool of gold coins. 

(Sorry, just daydreaming.)

If not the most competitive tournament, then the most profitable. The League will control the tournament. It will be played on NHL ice with NHL officials calling penalties on NHL players – well, for the most part.

The World Cup of Hockey could generate over $100 million in revenue, with the League and the NHLPA splitting it 50/50. There are no cap implications, as the money isn’t considered hockey-related revenue.

It’s the first stage of the NHL’s inevitable assault on European markets, and the dawn of an event held every four years that could create unprecedented revenue for the League. We’re talking about an event that’ll go to the highest bidding host city, taking over European capitols.

We’re talking about the start of several international series – how does a Ryder Cup-style 8-day tournament in London?

Could it also mark the moment the NHL is done with the Olympics? Potentially, especially when all the noise out of the League’s executives has been pessimistic.

“What’s a little bit different about these Olympics vs. previous Olympics, there’s a new president of the IOC and South Korea will say what they want in the tournament. Sochi picked up a lot of expenses. We want to wait and see. I’m not sure the same commitment is going to be there,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

Some specific bits of intrigue about the World Cup:

- The eight teams participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey will include Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Finland, Team Russia, Team Sweden, Team USA, Team Europe and Team North American Youngstars.                

- All eight teams will be comprised of 23 players, including 20 skaters and three goalies. Each National Association has the right to select its own team and must announce at least 16 members of its roster, including at least two goalies, no later than March 1, 2016, with the balance of each team’s roster to be announced no later than June 1, 2016. To select the rosters of Team Europe and Team North American Youngstars, the NHL and NHLPA will jointly name each of the management teams.

- The eight teams will be divided into two Groups of four, and each will compete in three tournament games within their assigned Group in a round-robin format. The top two finishers in each Group will advance to a single game semi-final against a team from the other Group. Winners of the semi-final games will advance to a best-of-three final round. All tournament games (round-robin, semi-final and final) will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto from September 17 - October 1, 2016.

- The NHL estimates that 90 percent of the players are going to be from the League. But if – OK, when – the Russian team needs KHL players to fill out the roster, that’ll be allowed.

- Now, about that Youngstars team.

The cutoff date for ages should be Sept. 1, 2016, although that’s not set in stone. The pool of 23-and-unders are exclusive to the Youngstars team; i.e. if Team Canada wants Nathan MacKinnon, they can’t have him. Only players over the age cutoff can compete for Team Canada and Team USA. 

Here’s a really, really interesting part: The player pool isn’t exclusive to the NHL. If the Youngstars want to add a hotshot junior player, they can, as long as he’s North American born.

Another concern: Goalies. Most 23-year-old netminders aren’t starters in the NHL. But Daly said the League is confident there’s a good enough pool of goalies from which to choose.

Hockey Canada and USA Hockey will be the ones to choose the management team for the Youngstars, including the coaches. So yes, the U.S. and Canada working together.

“It's always cats and dog,” said Hockey Canada COO Tom Renney.

- Now, about that European team.

Team Europe will be comprised of a pan-European roster of players from birth countries outside of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Countries such as Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Belarus, Estonia, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania (among others) will all be eligible.

“I’m sure it’s gonna be strange at first. Playing against each other, you know pretty much all the guys anyway, so I don’t think it’s going to be too hard,” said Anze Kopitar, who is basically the reason we’re having a Team Europe.

- With this thing running into October, how will it affect training camps?

Daly said the CBA mandates that camp needs to run 20 days. If they open on Sept. 22, 2016, with an opening day of Oct. 12 for the NHL, there would be some overlap. But Daly said even the players who would play in Game 3 of the Final would have seven to 10 days in camp.

Will that hurt the players?

“I don’t think so,” said Patrick Kane. “If anything, I think it gets you ready for the season a little bit more because you’re playing at such a high level. If injuries are gonna happen, injuries are gonna happen. It’s a tough sport. You’re playing a physical sport and injuries are bound to become. I don’t think anyone or any player would be really worried about an injury or if a coach has a chance for one of their guys or players to go over and play in the World Cup of Hockey, you can’t really argue too much about that. We’ll enjoy it.”