Updated: May 2
Earlier this spring, the World Baseball Classic came to a thrilling end and baseball fans all around the world thoroughly enjoyed the tournament. The opportunity to watch some of the best players in the game compete against each other is unlike anything else in major league sports. And while the WBC was a highlight for baseball fans, anyone who watches hockey hasn’t gotten the chance to watch an international tournament in years.
The NHL and NHLPA released this statement in November of last year about the current status of the next World Cup of Hockey: "Over the last year, the NHL and NHLPA have been working on plans to conduct the next World Cup of Hockey, the premier international best-on-best hockey tournament in February 2024. Unfortunately, in the current environment it is not feasible to hold the World Cup of Hockey at that time. We continue to plan for the next World Cup of Hockey, hopefully in February 2025."
To put it into perspective how long it’s been since hockey has seen a best-on-best tournament, the last World Cup of Hockey was held in 2016. Auston Matthews, now a well known star in the league, hadn’t even been drafted yet and Henrik Lundqvist, a NHL legend, was still playing! Superstars Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, Leon Draisaitl are just some of the current NHLers who participated in this tournament.
But if you take one look at the rosters from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, it’s easy to tell that most of those players aren’t playing in the league anymore and some of the most talented athletes in the sport today haven’t ever gotten the chance to play on an international stage in a best-on-best competition. By the time the next World Cup of Hockey is hosted, presumably in 2025, it’ll be almost ten years since the last time the tournament was held.
To make matters even worse, the NHL hasn’t sent players to compete in the Olympics since 2014. In 2018, players didn’t attend due to travel costs and schedule concerns and in 2022, the concerns surrounding COVID-19 was the reason players didn’t go. The Olympics are another opportunity for the greatest players in the NHL to get the experience of international play and represent their countries. Unfortunately, it’s another example of how the best of the best haven’t played against each other outside of the league and why it’s desperately needed.
And even the players are wishing for that kind of play to return to their beloved sport.
"It's what we've been asking for in hockey for a long time. Best on best. Look, everyone's been talking about baseball and 'did you see Ohtani vs. Trout?' That's what hockey's been missing for about a decade now." McDavid said in a scrum when the WBC came to a close in March.
The World Cup of Hockey would bring an incredible amount of exposure to the sport and would be a talking point in the sports world while it’s happening and after it’s finished. We still talk about MacKinnon’s insane overtime winner against Team Sweden to this day! Watching the best players in the world play both against and with each other is something that would put hockey on the minds of people who are more casual fans. Who doesn’t want to see Crosby, McDavid and MacKinnon all playing on the same team, maybe even the same line? The possibility of the new stars in the league like Jason Robertson and Mitch Marner joining their respective teams and competing for something other than the Stanley Cup would be a treat.
In a world where hockey is viewed as the “lesser” of the four major professional North American sports, the World Cup of Hockey would certainly put it on the map for new and old fans alike. It would be a tournament like no other and would bring together fans of every team which is an incredibly special experience.
Hopefully, the World Cup of Hockey makes an incredible comeback and we see NHL players back in international tournaments sooner rather than later. It would be disappointing to waste the opportunity to see the current talent in the league not play in a best-on-best tournament.