• SETH ON SPORTS 09.03.2016

    I realize this is a first-world-fan problem, but the 2016 World Cup of (men’s) Hockey isn’t technically the “best on best” tournament that it advertises to be. Don’t get my grumpiness wrong, I’ll be watching as I have every true best on best tournament since I could crawl up to the TV, and (hopefully) cheering another victory for Canada (as I celebrated in KEEPING THE TORCH).

    Best on Best tournaments are a rare prize for hockey fans, because unlike the World Championships and pre 1998 Olympic tournaments, all hockey players from the top 6-8 hockey nations are made available by all hockey leagues. It has only happened twelve times before—

    Canada Cups: 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1991

    World Cups of Hockey: 1996, 2004

    Olympics: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014

    —and so has exciting significance to hockey fans (especially, he grins, Canadian Hockey Fans, who have seen their heroes skate around with the trophy eight times while the Soviet Union, USA, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, have won the Best on Best face off once each).

    But this year will be slightly different: along with the top 6 hockey powers (Canada, Russia, USA, the Czech Republic, and Finland), the NHL and NHLPA godfathers of the tourney have also invented two amalgamation groups, Team Europe, and Team North America. The former will be a collection of the best European players not born in the big four European countries that qualified, whereas the latter will be made up of the best Canadian and American players under the age of 24.

    It’s a brilliant idea (as it intriguingly expands the flavour of the competition), but it means that Team Canada and Team USA will not have automatic access to their best players, but instead, they will only be allowed to choose from their top players who are 24 years and older. This will not hurt Canada too much because they are rich with talent in that age group; in fact, I suspect the only one of the young stars who might have made the senior team would have been super rookie, Connor McDavid. The USA, meanwhile, is not as wealthy in the over-23 category, but is greedy of talent amongst the younglings, and so may be losing out on three or four names that could’ve improved their chances.

    Meanwhile, all five European Teams have been given access to their full age range of talent. Any holes in their 23+ pool can be filled in by newbies.

    And, even though, in this case, Canada is not significantly hampered given its unmatched depth of 24 and older stars, the European countries are not being punished for their lack of similar depth.

    Meanwhile, I think the Team Europe idea is masterful (it’s great to give fans from non-powerhouse countries a chance to watch their favourites in such an elite battle), and that collaboration team in no way hurts the other European squads, as they won’t lose any players to it.

    However, the tournament’s set up of a young stars team that draws its membership only from North America is clearly a disadvantage to Canada and especially the United States.

    One possible solution to this disparity would have been for Canada and the US to be given first dibs on those young stars, but then (A) the young stars team might not be competitive enough, (B) Canada might just grab McDavid when they otherwise wouldn’t to lessen the chance of North America beating them, and (C) it would have been awkward for North America to wait for their betters to pick their entire team before selecting theirs.

    Thus, the only way to make the under 24 team an equitable offering would be to make it a true young stars team comprised of players from anywhere in the world.

    That solution would have at least leveled the playing surface such that each national team (as well as Team Europe) was limited to the same elderly demographic of talent.

    But I still see two problems there:

    (1) It would still cease to be a Best-on-Best tournament as lots of stars from around the world would be relegated to the kids’ team (even though the loss of talent would be shared, certain countries, like the US, would lose more of their best players than others), and (2) it seems strange to me to force players to compete for an age-based team instead of their national squad. Most young hockey players watch their national heroes and hope to join them one day. But this young stars offering puts athletes like McDavid in the position of potentially eliminating his own country from the competition.

    The solution to me, then, would have been to quash the young star idea, and instead to have two “Team Europe”s made up of two separate geographical amalgamations of players who grew up outside the big six countries.

    And, if it was really important to the World Cup organizers to get young stars like McDavid involved, they could require every team in the tournament to have at least one player under a certain age on their roster.

    As it is, if either Canada or the USA doesn’t win, they have something to complain about.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 7:26 AM

  • 4 Responses

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    • v Says:

      “As it is, if either Canada or the USA doesn’t win, they have something to complain about.”

      – HAHAHA!!!! Sports fans complain??? Never heard of such a thing.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Yeah, I just thought we might try something new. 😉

    • Tom Durrie Says:

      What I’ve always wondered is why it’s such a big deal to win or lose when the players on the team have little or nothing to do with the place with which the team is identified. Fans go about yelling, “We won, we won!” or feel terribly depressed if “we” lost. I could see it if the players were actually products of the hometown or even home country, but since they’re not, who cares?

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks Tom. Yes, the “we” in our winnings is funny. However, to clarify, the Best on Best competitions to which I refer are built almost* entirely on home-built hockey players competing for their originating countries.

      *Occasionally, nations will help themselves to players from other countries whom they had nothing to do with the construction of, but are able to sign to their team because of a loophole of dual citizenship. (This was the case with the 1996 American’s use of Brett Hull and Adam Deadmarsh, who previously hadn’t been able to make the Canadian squads, so the US team placated their egos and offered the dual citizens spots on their team.) Also, even more occasionally, players who have defected from the country that designed them will play for their adoptive nation. (This was the case for the Czechoslovakia-defecting Peter Stastny who skated for Canada in the 1984 competition.)

      As for fans rooting for geographical club teams assorted from various international starting points, I think that’s just part of the fun of sports. We the city produce an owner who then hires administration to seek players to represent us. Those players sign up to be our sporting ambassadors, as they become temporary residents of our city (and sometimes permanent city-zens, as in the case of our former star forward, and now team president Trevor Linden), and so they play for their adoptive “home” city (and a tiny bit of financial compensation).

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