With the 2016 World Cup of Hockey officially announced today by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during All Star weekend in Columbus, the inclusion of a European All-Star team and North American (Pan-Am) Young Stars (U-23) are a new concept for the purpose of including as many NHL players as possible.
As unconventional as it seems the tournament will feature eight teams in total in Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, European All-Stars and North American YoungStars. Normally those spots would be filled by a Germany and Slovakia as they were in 2004, even then the emerging Switzerland and Denmark who are churning out top end NHL stars as opposed to the fringe players they were notable for throughout the early 2000s.
The tournament will take place next fall in Toronto from September 17th to October 1st and unlike the last World Cup which took place twelve years ago in 2004, this tournament is being put together solely by the NHL and the NHLPA.
This doesn’t mean Rene Fasel could be in tight for the Olympics in 2018. Yes the NHL could elect to not go which seems to be their stance internally but with what seems to be unanimous support from the NHLPA as seen today by the interviews done by Patrick Kane, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar, it could be difficult to see the players not representing their respective countries when Pyeongchang rolls around.
So what does it mean with the NHL and NHLPA pulling solo effort on this event instead of cooperating with the IIHF? It means that the NHL will be able to feature their own talent over players in the KHL and varying leagues in Europe, meaning the rosters will comprise of 184 NHL players. It also means that by playing with NHL rules and regulations the league will be able to get another crack at global marketing of their product which brings us back to the possible down the road hope of European expansion.
Now what will the European team potentially look like at the 2016 World Cup?
The team really should be thought of as a Denmark, Slovakia and Switzerland All-Star team plus Anze Kopitar essentially. The team accomplishes the goal of getting more stars from Europe like Kopitar into meaningful and more importantly MARKETABLE games because they have a chance to actually be competitive. Let’s face it Slovenia is not even close to winning an International tournament at the highest level despite winning their first game at the Olympics last year when they beat Slovakia.
Starter: Frederik Andersen (ANA/Denmark)
Backup: Jaroslav Halak (NYI/Slovakia)
Third: Jonas Hiller (CGY/Switzerland)
Don’t be fooled to instantly write off the European All-Star team as being a group of castoffs because the team actually has legitimate goaltending as seen in previous international tournaments.
Halak was a star for Slovakia that ultimately finished 4th during the 2010 tournament after pushing both Canada and Finland to the brink before falling short in the Bronze Medal game. Hiller has been a focal point for the Swiss program and has played in 27 games for his country since 2006.
It won’t be surprising however if the young Andersen gets the majority of the starts. The Ducks goalie has been one of the better goaltenders in the league this year and has been a stalwart between the pipes for one of the league’s Stanley Cup favourites out west.
1st Pairing: Zdeno Chara (BOS/Slovakia) & Roman Josi (NSH/Switzerland)
2nd Pairing: Mark Streit (PHI/Switzerland) & Christian Ehrhoff (PIT/Germany)
3rd Pairing: Andrej Sekera (CAR/Slovakia) & Lubomir Visnovsky (NYI/Slovakia)
X: Dennis Seidenberg (BOS/Germany)
This team is loaded with left-side defensemen and someone is bound to switch over to the other side to balance out the talent without making huge sacrifices. Chara is the big stud on the back-end but he’s slowing down and clearly entering the twilight of his career. Streit, Ehrhoff and Visnovsky are still considered PP quarterbacks in the league whether on the 1PP or 2PP.
This will ultimately be a team that, although weaker on the backend, may have one of the stronger powerplays in the tournament. Josi figures to be a key part of the defense after emerging as a legitimate top 3 defenseman playing along with one of the league’s best in Shea Weber. Sekera is a responsible defenseman as is the spare defender in Seidenberg.
Additional hopefuls include:
- Andrej Meszaros (BUF/Slovakia)
- Yannick Weber (VAN/Switzerland)
- Luca Sbisa (VAN/Switzerland)
They’ll have to be a mobile unit for the team to have any success in the tournament as they are currently the weaker part of the team.
1st Line: LW Thomas Vanek (MIN/Austria), C Anze Kopitar (LA/Slovenia), RW Marian Hossa (CHI/Slovakia)
2nd Line: LW Tomas Tatar (DET/Slovakia), C Zemgus Girgensons (BUF/Latvia), RW Marian Gaborik (LA/Slovakia)
3rd Line: LW Mikkel Boedker (ARZ/Denmark), C Frans Nielsen (NYI/Denmark), RW Michael Grabner (NYI/Austria)
4th Line: LW Mats Zuccarello (NYR/Norway), C Lars Eller (MTL/Denmark), RW Jannik Hansen (VAN/Denmark)
X: LW Marcel Goc (PIT/Germany)
This team has speed and lots of finesse upfront. A top unit of Vanek-Kopitar-Hossa has the ability to be a strong puck-possession line. An elite level center in Kopitar and a former 40-goal scorer in Vanek make for a formidable 1-2 punch on the teams top line. A Tatar-Girgensons-Gaborik line has the potential to be one if not the fastest and creative lines in the tournament. Not to be outdone there are plenty of defensively responsible players in the bottom six and boasts a very responsible fourth line with Zuccarello-Eller-Hansen.
There is a strong list of darkhouses that could ultimately crack the team:
- Mikhail Grabovski (NYI/Belarus)
- Nino Niederreiter (MIN/Switzerland)
- Tobias Rieder (ARZ/Germany)
- Tomas Jurco (DET/Slovakia)
- Leon Draisaitl (EDM/Germany)
- Richard Panik (TOR/Slovakia)
- Tomas Kopecky (FLA/Slovakia)
All in all this assembly might not be the favourite for gold nor should they, but they won’t be a walk in the park to play against either. If the chemistry kicks together they could surprise with a few upsets in the tournament.