The World Cup of Hockey was created in 1996 to succeed the Canada Cup, but it never really got the attention the NHL hoped it would. In its debut, the big-six hockey countries (Canada, U.S.A., Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic), along with Germany and Slovakia, faced off in a tournament that took place in several different countries. The result was a United States victory over Canada in a best-of-three final.
The tournament would not happen again until 2004, where the same eight teams would compete, and Canada would go on to defeat Finland in a single-game finale.
Now, 12 years later, the NHL has redeveloped the World Cup of Hockey. This year’s edition – which will take place from September 17 to October 1 in Toronto – won’t feature the same octet of nations. The big-six are still around, but Slovakia and Germany have been replaced by Team Europe and Team North America.
Team Europe combines players from all the other European countries, while Team North America features the best 23-and-under players from Canada and the United States.
The tournament will also go back to the original three-game series for the finals.
The eight teams are divided into two grounds (Group A: Canada, Czech Republic, USA, and Team Europe; Group B: Finland, Russia, Sweden, and Team North America).
The NHL plans for the new World Cup of Hockey to take place every four years and intends to remove the two aforementioned teams in 2020, holding a qualifier for those final two spots. We’ll see about that, though, as I have a feeling those two teams will be crucial in sparking interest in this year’s version.
Whether this tournament lasts and eventually takes the place of the Olympics in the hockey world (as the NHL hopes, due to revenue and scheduling), will be determined in due course. For now, let’s just focus on the immediate future with the odds to win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and some related tournament props.
Odds to win the World Cup of Hockey:
Team North America: 25/1
Czech Republic: 25/1
Team Europe: 40/1
The Canadians enter the tournament as the favorites, having won the last two Olympic gold medals, and possess an incredibly talented roster. Their biggest advantage may come between the pipes; the best goaltender in the world, Carey Price, is healthy and ready stop some rubber. Price will get a ton of assistance from the Canadian blue-line that is very similar to the one that was dominant in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Russia will certainly be able to provide offense, but there are concerns over whether they’ll be able to defend. (What else is new?) Same goes for Sweden now that Nick Lidstrom has retired.
The United States has a well-rounded roster, and will hope that reigning NHL MVP Patrick Kane can pick up where he left off.
Of course, the two teams that are filled with question marks are Team North America and Team Europe. Will the kids be able to utilize their speed and skill to overcome their lack of experience? Can Team Europe build chemistry quickly enough to hang with these other teams, who have largely played together before?
Odds to lead the tournament in scoring:
Patrick Kane, U.S.A.: 6/1
Erik Karlsson, Sweden: 15/2
Alex Ovechkin, Russia: 10/1
Connor McDavid, Team North America: 12/1
Jamie Benn, Canada: 12/1
Vladimir Tarasenko, Russia: 15/1
Anze Kopitar, Team Europe: 18/1
There are far too many extremely talented offensive players participating in this tournament to give too much of an edge to any one of them. Kane, Karlsson, Ovechkin, and McDavid will all be relied upon to score for their respective teams, while Canada’s offense will likely be more spread out.
Odds on a shutout recorded in any game: 1/3
Both of gold and bronze medal games at the 2014 Olympics resulted in shutouts, and those games were played on international ice, under international rules.
Despite the big-name scorers flooding the rosters of every team, scoring has become a thing of the past in the NHL, and I expect to see at least one shutout in this tournament. (Canada vs. Team Europe?)
Odds on Team Europe and Team North America advancing to the knockout stage: 50/1
With only two teams from each group advancing, Team Europe would have to supplant either Canada or the U.S., while Team North America has to deal with Russia, Sweden, and Finland.
The odds of one getting through are pretty long; both is a real long-shot.
Odds on player suffering season-ending injury during tournament: 4/3
We all remember John Tavares suffering a knee injury during the Sochi Olympics. (Islander fans probably remember it better than others.) The smaller ice will only increase the chance of a big collision, and I expect to see a more physical game, too.
An injury is bound to happen (it’s hockey), let’s just hope it’s nothing too severe.
Odds on a fight during the tournament: 75/1
This is international play. It won’t happen. There’s lots of UFC coming up, though, if you need your fix.
Odds on Air Canada Centre selling out for any game: 1/50
Who in Canada won’t want to watch Canada take on the United States?
Odds on Air Canada Centre selling out for every game: 5/3
Those same people may not want to watch Team Europe take on the Czech Republic.
Odds on NHL pulling their players from the 2018 Winter Olympics: 5/4
The Olympics provide a truly international stage for hockey, allowing the game to expand and grow in non-traditional hockey countries. But it’s inconvenient for the NHL to pause its season every four years and these decisions usually come down to money.
Over/under total goals scored in group stage: 72.5
There are 12 games in the group stage. The 2015-16 NHL season saw a little over five goals scored per game. This tournament should provide a few more pucks in the back of the net, but not that drastic of a change.
Over/under total goals scored against Canada: 9.5
The Canadians only surrendered three goals in six games at Sochi, posting shutouts against the Americans in the semis and Swedes in the final. You may say, “that’s boring,” but if any Canadians seem to agree with you, they’re probably just being polite.
Canada could play as many as seven games in the World Cup of Hockey; the competition will be more fierce and the players will be used to the spacing on the NHL-sized ice. But that smaller rink will also let Canada collapse in front of its own net, leading to more sticks on pucks and blocked shots, so don’t expect any floodgates to open.
Over/under total goals scored by non-NHL players: 2.5
There are only eight players in the tournament who are not currently in the NHL, with the most notables being Pavel Datsyuk (Russia) and Sebastian Aho (Finland). Six of the eight are forwards, and have a good chance to make their presence felt. However, I wouldn’t expect many besides Datsyuk and Aho to find the back of the net.
Over/under total number of players in the tournament who get poached by Las Vegas in the expansion draft: 1.5
These are the best players in the world, but Chicago can only protect so many.
Over/under total goals scored by Alex Ovechkin: 2.5
Surely the best players in the world will be able to prevent him from getting off that one-timer from the faceoff circle, right? Wrong.
Over/under combined points by the Sedin twins: 3.5
If one is passed his prime, does that mean they both are?
Over/under total times Phil Kessel being snubbed gets mentioned during broadcasts: 2.5
Kessel lead the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in points during the playoffs and also finished with the most points at the 2014 Olympics. But the United States doesn’t need him, apparently.
Over/under total times Team North America is referred to as the “young guns” during broadcasts: 4.5
That number assumes they won’t make it beyond the group stage.
Over/under total countries that record a point for Team Europe: 6.5
Team Europe will sport players from eight different countries, but they won’t all get on the score sheet. See France, whose only hope is Pierre-Édouard Bellemare.
Photo credit: s.yume [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.