By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — The NHL and players remain committed to hosting a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024 even as they work through some unexpected logistical challenges.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Mathieu Schneider from the Players’ Association and their staffs are working daily to attempt to overcome hurdles related to staging part of the tournament in Europe. The plan is to split games between Europe and North America, once the International Ice Hockey Federation and various national teams get on board.
Even if that doesn’t happen, a World Cup is still possible.
“We’re still planning on this happening,” Daly told The Associated Press on Thursday at the NHL/NHLPA player media tour. “Worst case, even, we think we have the ability to make it happen just ourselves. Even if we don’t have the full cooperation of kind of the European entities that we want to work with, we have the ability to pull this off and execute it ourselves. And if the players want it bad enough, and it seems they do, I don’t see anything getting in the way of that.”
Schneider, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director and a retired defenseman, made it clear players do want the tournament to take place and expressed optimism about getting an agreement done.
“It’s going to take a little bit longer than we had hoped,” he said at the NHLPA rookie showcase last week. “The federations are on board, especially because we haven’t been in the last couple Olympics and I think everybody is just dying for it. It’s just trying to piece it together. We’ll get there. We’ll get there.”
Because the NHL has not participated in the past two Olympics, the best players in the world haven’t faced off since the World Cup in 2016. And that tournament included a Team Europe made up of players from various countries and a Team North America with U.S. and Canadian players 23 and under.
“That was fun and cool to be a part of, but it’s not anything like playing for your country,” said Edmonton captain Connor McDavid, who hasn’t represented Canada since the world championships in 2018. “I think the NHL, and hockey in general, has missed out on a huge chunk of international play and best-on-best play. That would have been really, really special.”
“We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”
The league and NHLPA need to work quickly to finalize what they envision as an eight-team tournament, which Daly said could include some type of play-in round.
A decision has not yet been made about what to do about Russia amid the country’s war in Ukraine. There is still time before that determination needs to be made.
“I certainly don’t feel like we’re up against a wall today to have to make that decision,” Daly said. “But as a practical reality, at some point prior to February of ’24 we’re going to have to make that decision. I couldn’t tell you sitting here whether it’s in a month or 12 months. At some point in the relatively near future, we’ll start making those decisions.”
The decision has been made to play some games in Europe, which is different than 2016 when the entire World Cup took place in Toronto.
“People want to see games in Europe,” Schneider said. “Players want to play games in Europe. It’s really trying to grow the game and create that excitement.”
February is also the chosen timeframe after the 2016 tournament was in September, a combination of a crowded fall sports landscape and the desire for better play on the ice.
“The quality of the hockey will be better because the players will be in midseason form, and it’s the right time of the year,” Daly said. “Our fans are kind of conditioned to want to see hockey in February. We think from that standpoint, it’s probably the right time. If you add to that our understanding, if not commitment to participate in the Olympics on a regular basis, it fits.”
Players would like to make Olympic participation routine like it was from 1998 through 2014. American center Jack Eichel responded, “Don’t hold your breath” when told of World Cup plans, but he agrees with Team North America teammate McDavid about the benefits of making another international competition happen.
“He’s spot on with that, and I think every guy in the league would probably agree,” Eichel said. “Whether it’s representing your country or having the opportunity to play against the world’s best, everyone wants to do it.”
The NHL plans to have fans on the field around the rink during the outdoor Stadium Series game in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Feb. 18 between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes.
The league’s vision involves a DJ, bars and a party scene similar to the infield at auto and some horse races, which has yet to be done during an outdoor hockey game.
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