Viewpoint: World Cup of Hockey no substitute for the Olympics

When Canadians from coast to coast gathered around their televisions in 2010 to watch Sidney Crosby score his golden goal, they rejoiced and enjoyed the moment together, as a national collective.

Flash forward to 2016 and the World Cup of Hockey, where fans’ allegiances are being divided. 

For example, Canadian fans must choose between rooting for Team Canada — comprised solely of Canadian stars — and Team North America, which includes players from Canada and the U.S. who are under the age of 24.

This dilemma is one of many that have those around the game worrying that this revamped international competition will take the place of Olympic hockey, which the NHL has always been reluctant to embrace.

The issue of what should be done about professional involvement in Olympic hockey comes up every few years, with the NHL and International Olympic Committee routinely butting heads over scheduling and finances.

The NHL, by deciding to bring back its own tournament — the World Cup of Hockey — has strengthened its case for backing out of the Olympics while still offering fans a chance to watch the world’s best. 

There are, however, many problems with this logic.

The World Cup of Hockey is derived from the Canada Cup, which was dreamed up in the 1970s as a way to showcase the top talent in the world on the international stage. 

During that era there were no professional hockey players at the Olympics and therefore many fans were left wondering what would happen if the world’s best played against each other. 

That unknown was also due to the fact that the NHL was almost exclusively made up of North American players. 

According to TSN, in 1980, 94.6 per cent of NHL players were from Canada or the U.S. — nearly all, in fact, from Canada. In contrast, last season, that number was significantly lower, with 73.9 per cent hailing from North America, but European stars in abundance, too.

In the late 20th century, hockey truly started to blossom into a global sport rather than one that was divided amongst continents. NHL participation in the Olympics had a huge role to play in that, and hockey’s showcase place in the Winter Games has helped grow the game across the world.

Pulling players out of the Olympics in favour of the World Cup of Hockey would have the opposite effect. 

Every edition of both the Canada Cup and World Cup has been played in North America. 

This year’s main location has been Toronto, but exhibition games were held in various North American cities, including Ottawa.

On the other hand, the Olympics are held all over the world, on different continents.

The NHL, should it remove its players from the Olympics, will stunt that international growth of the game. 

One argument the league drags out every time there is a debate over NHL participation in the Olympics is the issue of player safety.

NHL executives deem it unsafe for the players to compete in Olympic hockey and then return to the NHL regular season, but don’t seem to have a problem with the World Cup — which starts before the NHL season and actually tacks on a few weeks to create a longer season.

The fact is that only a small percentage of NHL players actually play in the Olympics, and therefore the vast majority of players are given a two-week holiday to rest up, which otherwise wouldn’t be possible. 

The time off is extremely beneficial as it gives those players a prolonged break to recuperate for the gruelling late-season playoff push.

The NHL should follow the lead of its top Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who has declared he will play in the next Olympics no matter what — and give players and fans alike what they really want.