The World Cup of Hockey returns next weekend, marking the first time the NHL-sanctioned international tournament will be held since 2004. Eight teams -- Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Europe, Team Finland, Team North America, Team Russia, Team Sweden and Team USA - will compete in a two tabled group stage before moving on to a knockout round that will ultimately crown a winner through a Best-of-3 final. While there's not as much glory at stake as in the Olympics or the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the jury is still out on how much players actually care about the tournament, there are still a significant number of things that hockey fans (and even non-hockey fans) can look forward to in regards to the spectacle. Here are some of them.
NHLI via Getty ImagesClaus Andersen
The World Cup of Hockey may not be some prestigious event that’s been sorely missed for the last 12 years, but its revival may prove to be important for the NHL’s influence both in North America and internationally. The tournament is being held exclusively in Toronto this year, but if it's a success, the league will have the opportunity to branch out in the future and involve cities around the world. And even if it doesn’t win over scores of new fans or pull in big numbers, it’s still an additional event for hockey fans to look forward to every four years.
NHLI via Getty ImagesGraig Abel
A preseason with (some) meaning
While we’re not expecting Stanley Cup Playoff level intensity from the WCoH, the tournament should bring a healthy dose of competition in games that are semi-meaningful. At the very least, they should be more intense, more meaningful and more entertaining than the typical alternative in September: the NHL preseason. The World Cup will basically be a full-speed preseason to help some of the game’s top players shake off the rust, and that’s a win for hockey fans everywhere. (Unless a player from your favorite team gets hurt and misses regular season games.)
A replacement for the Olympics?
Though the NHL says they’re not looking at the World Cup as a potential replacement for the Olympics, there is a significant chance that it could end up working out that way -- at least as far as professional participation goes. NHL players have participated in every Winter Games since 1998, but the NHLPA won’t fully commit to participating in 2018 and beyond. If they decide it’s not worth sending pros to the Games, the World Cup may be the only international tournament in which hockey fans can see the world’s top talent compete against each other. While that would certainly be disappointing, it would also make the World Cup a little more special and important to fans.
Getty ImagesMartin Rose
The Young Guns showcase
One of the most intriguing aspects of the World Cup is the inclusion of the North American team, which is basically a 23-and-under team comprised of the game’s best young talent from America and Canada --- including Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews. Not only will it be interesting to see how the young guns match up and compete against the elder vets, but it’s also a great way for the NHL to familiarize fans with some of the game’s future stars and showcase them on an international stage.
Getty ImagesTom Szczerbowski
Okay, so maybe nobody else will care about this as much as me, but it’s kind of a big deal. This tournament provides a first look at the NHL’s partnership with adidas, who designed the uniforms for each team involved. Though adidas doesn’t officially take over as official outfitter for the 31 NHL teams until the 2017-2018 season, the World Cup will give fans an idea of what to expect when that happens. Honestly, it’s a pretty strong start, as most of the international jerseys are solid.
NHLI via Getty ImagesClaus Andersen
If there’s one thing hockey fans love to complain about, it’s that hockey doesn’t get enough shine or respect in comparison to the other major sports. If nothing else, the World Cup will give the sport some supplemental exposure and force major media networks to incorporate hockey coverage a little earlier than usual. Fans will get to transition back into hockey season with more than just the typical preseason storylines that are recycled year after year. The tournament also brings professional hockey back to ESPN, which hasn’t had NHL broadcast rights since 2004. (The network has covered college hockey playoffs in recent years.)
Canada is going to be really, really good
I’m sure this will come as a really huge shock, but Canada’s roster is absolutely stacked with top tier talent and, by all indications, they’re going to be exceptionally fun to watch. The early line combinations are pretty absurd and should have the rest of the field a little worried. And the best news of all for Canada? There’s no Stanley Cup at stake here, so there’s a chance they could actually win this thing.