As a counter-argument to my optimism surrounding the World Cup of Hockey, some thoughts on three challenges facing the tournament for those who prefer a more negative outlook on life:
Team North America
The risk here is that once the novelty wears off and the young guns lose another 10-7 game, the concept of forming an under-24 team will appear to look more like a marketing gimmick and less like an attempt to distribute competitive balance. But the biggest problem with Team North America might be its effect on Team USA. If the longer term goal of this World Cup is to grow the hockey audience in the United States, then siphoning off some of the best American talent onto a mixed-nation JV team could have the unintended consequence of Team USA failing to reach either the finals or (gasp!) the semis.
As a transplanted Canadian living in Texas, I didn’t fully appreciate that the Labor Day Weekend wasn’t just a day to honor the American worker, but the unofficial end of summer and the official start of football season. When you grow up in the hockey bubble like I did, you don’t truly understand the sheer size and interest level of the machine that is NCAA/NFL football. The World Cup of Hockey is trying to carve a spot in the sports landscape by both kicking off the tournament and holding its semi-final round on weekends in September. That makes it tough for anyone but the hardcore hockey fan to tune in.
The NHL and its players are trying to walk a fine line between creating additional revenue streams and creating a true best-on-best international bragging rights tournament. While the Olympics are cool, shutting the League down in the middle of the season every four years really doesn’t make financial sense for the NHL. The only time frame that does make sense is pre-season, but it’s notoriously difficult to generate playoff-like intensity before the regular season even starts (hello World Baseball Classic). This doesn’t only apply to players. Asking fans to ramp up their interest in an international tournament (with two of the eight teams not even representing countries) after a summer off might be the toughest challenge of all.