COLUMBUS, Ohio – More than 140,000 people are expected to experience All-Star Weekend. The entire hockey universe will be invited to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that was announced Saturday. The NHL and its players’ association will put on the event in September 2016 in Toronto.
“Our objective is to have a tournament as competitive as it can be,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “a two-week, best-on-best international tournament that promises to be one of the best competitions in hockey history.”
Eight teams will vie for global supremacy in a tournament that could end the league’s participation in the Olympics. The United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic will field national teams, while the remaining European nations will combine for a seventh team. The eighth will be a “North American Youngstars” squad consisting of Americans and Canadians age 23 and younger.
“We have an opportunity here to build this game and build this culture and create something that everybody on both sides can be immensely proud of,” Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, said in Nationwide Arena. “We want the very best against the very best.”
Each team will play three exhibition games before beginning a three-game round robin. There will be two one-game semifinals, followed by a best-of-three championship. All of the tournament games will be held in Air Canada Centre.
“The World Cup was something I grew up watching, especially in ‘96 when the U.S. defeated the Canadians,” said U.S. forward Patrick Kane, one of three players invited to speak at the announcement. “You talk about the World Cup of Hockey, it seems like such a big thing, especially when you put it in Toronto. These are going to be the best players in the world in the best hockey city in the world.
“If you’re a hockey fan and enjoy this thing, you’re going to want to be there.”
Though the tournament will be contested north of the border, Buffalo has a chance to be involved thanks to its proximity to Toronto. Training camps will be conducted in the location of each team’s choosing, and each team will be permitted to host at least one exhibition game at a site of its choice. The NHL said “the teams will be brought together in a more central North American location for a final pretournament exhibition game.”
NHL training camps will be held at the same time as the tournament, which could conclude as late as Oct. 1.
“We intend to build on this World Cup with regularly scheduled World Cups, hopefully every four years in a format that will evolve,” Bettman said.
While the commissioner said the World Cup is being held independent of the Olympics, a successful tournament would make it easier for the league to walk away from the 2018 Games in South Korea.
“Certain arrangements have to be made before it can even be considered,” Bettman said of league participation, “and we’re not there yet.”
Meanwhile, the next league-wide event is scheduled for Buffalo. The NHL Scouting Combine will be held May 31 to June 6 in HarborCenter.
It will not have the celebratory vibe that accompanies other league events. The combine will be closed to the public, just as it has been during its previous years in Toronto. So while the All-Star Game features a giant outdoor tubing slide, a 5-kilometer run and a fan festival, Buffalo’s event is expected to be a quiet one – at least this year.
“The challenge is it’s not an open-to- the-public event,” Sabres President Ted Black said Saturday. “There’s no current plans to go on the ice, and there’s no current plans to open it to the public. That is the inherent challenge.
“We don’t want to have people be disappointed and have expectations that they’re going to be able to come in and see the workouts.”
The combine has become an anticipated date on the NHL calendar. The top prospects gather for fitness testing and interviews less than a month before the entry draft, giving folks one last chance to determine which players should be selected.
The combine has been held in an oversized conference room near the Toronto airport, but the Sabres successfully bid to host the next two. Black hopes the team and league can put together a party for 2016, when Buffalo is also hosting the draft.
“As you get to 2016, you can bookend two events in one month and you might be able to do something more unique,” Black said after leaving the Board of Governors meeting. “The fact that the event has evolved from where it was in Toronto to a facility like ours in Buffalo, that’s the first step in maybe growing it to a property. We’ll leave it to the league for how they would want to see that evolve.”
The NHL will eventually get around to examining the combine, but for now it will relish the return of the World Cup.
During his State of the League address, Bettman also said:
• Expansion is still in the exploratory stage. Though Las Vegas is set to begin a ticket drive and the mayor of Seattle recently met with the league, Bettman says no one has been promised a team.
• There will be three outdoor games in 2015-16. Boston will host Montreal in the New England Patriots’ stadium on New Year’s Day. Minnesota will host Chicago on Feb. 21 in the University of Minnesota’s football stadium, and Colorado will welcome Detroit to the Rockies’ baseball stadium Feb. 27.
• The falling Canadian dollar will not have much impact on next season’s salary cap. The league projected a $73 million cap when the Canadian dollar was worth 88 cents in the United States. At 80 cents, which is what it is trading for now, the league projects a $71.7 million cap.
“These are not, in the context of $70-plus million cap, dramatic numbers,” Bettman said. “Even with the decline of the Canadian dollar, the salary cap doesn’t fall off a cliff.”