While I admit to being completely clueless about the detailed logistics of building an international hockey tournament, the overall idea of it is not complicated. While the actual hockey is probably better before the NHL season when players are fresh and teams have a chance to practice and shape themselves, the players have shown a preference for the Olympics window. And the issues the World Baseball Classic has, as fun as it has become, like pitching limits and a host of pitchers (mostly American) who don’t want to disrupt their ramp to the season, probably make the February window the more sensible one.
Other than that, get eight international teams together, divide them into groups of four, and let’s go. Even Russia’s omission of international tournaments across the sport shouldn’t be much of a hindrance. Insert Denmark or Austria or Switzerland or Latvia or whoever.
And yet the NHL can’t get it right. They appear on the edge of borking it twice.
If you don’t remember, when the NHL was first looking to get out of the Olympics that it wasn’t directly monetizing and set up its own thing that did, it ditched the World Cup in 2016, formerly the Canada Cup , out of the ashes of 2004. But it completely turned it into basically a joke of an exhibition by inserting two gimmick teams into it, the 23-and-under All-Stars that featured neophyte Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid instead of having them against each other as the No. 1 centers for Canada and the US. It also featured Team Europe instead of including tournament regulars like Slovakia or Germany. The made up teams took most of the shine off it as a true international tournament. It was also held in September, when previous iterations of the tournament were held, which didn’t really help it grab anyone’s attention.
(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 that the NHL has never been able to pull off. It even had an American win in Montreal in 1996 to work off of and couldn’t pull it off. They didn’t hold another until 2004, as a way to collect one last bit of profit before the Great Bettman Lockout II (featuring another awful American team) that wiped out an entire NHL season. The NHL has ceded the international competition stage to the Olympics, all the while refusing to profit from it while putting the health of their players at risk.
They’re doing it again with this concoction they’re whispering into existence for 2025, something of a preview of Turin’s 2026 Olympics in which they’ll almost certainly be participating again. While Gary Bettman was quick to claim that there simply isn’t time to set up a full international tournament in any window, that’s only because everyone has been thumbing their noses about it for so long. Mostly, they did it to see if Vladimir Putin would either be deposed or, even more miraculously, come back to his senses and end the Ukraine war so they could include Russia in whatever they wanted to do. It didn’t happen, and now time is running out.
So they’ll create this four-team what-if, hoping they can stack three USA-Canada games in a 10-day span. Sweden and Finland will be included for the sake of it and to make it look like it’s not a mini-summit series between the two North American powers.
As a warm-up or preview for Turin 2026, it’s good. A year later, fans will get a glimpse of what the shapes of each roster might look like if it really counts and the debates that come with it, which make up a large percentage of the appeal. Fans will see those uniforms against each other and when an American jersey is pitted against a Canadian one, and a Finland one against a Sweden one, a hockey fan’s heart can’t help but sing a little. do not stir. This is really the preview tag match before the pay-per-view.
But that’s all it is. It’s not a tournament and it’s probably not worth stopping the season for, especially when February is when hockey with something like this can have the sports world’s attention on itself. This thing will be over before it gains any momentum or traction in the general consciousness. Waiting around for Russia made sense, if only to capitalize on Russia-Canada or US-Russia history. But it was clear that this would not be possible for a while and the smaller hockey countries were in the meantime getting close to the big ones. Even Latvia and Slovenia made the big boys sweat in Sochi in 2014.
If this is just going to be a preview of the Olympics, they’d be better off with the USA and Canada playing a best-of-five across the continent for a week instead of the All-Star break. Keep those in the right cities and the league will be a sellout guaranteed (Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Nashville, St. Paul will all eat it up and that’s probably not even half the list. Or have the whole thing in Vegas and enjoy the building that is split 50-50) while overloading the one game that turns even casual hockey fans on.
If they can’t do it well, then don’t do it at all, and wait for the gap in 2028 between Olympics to have a proper World Cup. But not doing something well has never stopped the NHL from doing something. In fact, this is an important principle.
Follow Sam on Twitter @felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social