The two accepted truths about the new World Cup of Hockey are that (a) it’s a blatant money-grab from the NHL and the NHLPA, at a time when revenue streams are being tapped to full capacity in North America and (b) it’s an international tournament whose success is meant to rattle the cages of the IOC and the IIHF.
On the first truth … well, ask anyone that’s attempted to purchase tickets only to find they need a second mortgage on their house to do so. On the second, as Eric Duhatschek writes:
The 2018 Winter Olympics are being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 14 time zones away and not exactly a hot NHL market. So if the World Cup is a screaming success, the league might use it as an excuse to politely decline to send its players to another season-disrupting Games.
Yes, one would assume that a tournament held before a decision has to be made on the 2018 games, and one that already has a 2020 sequel announced by the NHL and the NHLPA, might be used as an alternative for Olympic participation. Even if winning a trophy that looks like a jellyfish orgy doesn’t compare to winning Winter gold.
But then you’d be super wrong, according to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who told XM NHL Network Radio that one tournament has nothing to do with the other.
“We’ve never thought – and I don’t think the NHL believes either, or has never suggested to us – that this tournament will have any impact, in any meaningful way, on an Olympics decision,” said Fehr.
‘Now, this doesn’t seem based in reality,’ you might be saying. But here’s the rub: Fehr has to manage expectations here. If the World Cup is a blockbuster success on and off the ice, it could be seen as a viable alternative to the Olympics for the NHL. If could have a major impact on the Olympics, in other words.
But the players, by and large, still want to go for gold.
“Players have always wanted to play in the Olympics. That hasn’t changed,” said Fehr.
The scenario, as it’s been laid out to me: The NHL really, really doesn’t care about Pyeongchang. It’s not worth the travel, the time difference or the effort for a market that, frankly, they could give a toss about.
But Beijing, in 2022? Yes, they’re very must interested in that.
China should remain an emerging market for every pro league. That’s the showcase they NHL wants. If it was Beijing in 2018, we’re not even having this discussion about the League not sending its players.
OK, we’d sorta still have it. Because at the end of the day, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is proof of concept to the IOC and the IIHF that the NHL could pull something like this off every four years; and that maybe it could supplant the Olympics if they don’t increase their funding of travel and insurance for players and loosen their grip on merchandise that the NHL wants to sell online and in its store.
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