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World Cup of Hockey: When should they actually play this thing?

Getty ImagesAs you well know, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey is considered the greatest hockey tournament ever played, what with the United States overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in a – dare we say “miraculous”? – journey to the gold. Mike Richter was named MVP and, as you can see in this photo, immediately joined the Sons of Anarchy.

(We’ve been told there was another tournament held in 2004, although we’re a little hazy on the victor.)

Point is, international all-star tournaments are awesome, as long as they have full access to the NHL’s player pool and aren’t some glorified puck version of the N.I.T. like the IIHF world championships are.

But why revive the World Cup of Hockey? It never caught fire with American audiences, and the rest of the world saw it as North American circle flagellation.

Money, that’s why. Or at least the potential to make it. But when should it played?

As Roy MacGregor of the Globe & Mail wrote last October, the NHL sees the World Cup as a way to get an all-star exhibition tournament in prime time – something the next two Olympics will not offer:

The 1996 World Cup is remembered mostly for Brett Hull’s controversial high-stick goal that led to victory for the USA; the second tournament barely recalled at all, even though Canada won and the hockey was played at a high level. A February tournament every fourth year, however, might prove wildly successful – just as Olympic hockey has since NHL players began to play at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

There is no denying the league is less than thrilled with the prospects of upcoming two Olympics: Sochi, Russia, in 2014, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. The time differences will make prime-time TV broadcasting impossible, but there are also the usual Olympic complaints from the league: Three weeks of empty arenas, star players in danger of injury, no piece-of-the-pie offering from the International Olympic Committee that makes millions selling tickets and broadcast rights to those games.

Should the NHL shut down its season for a World Cup?

Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports wrote about the Olympics and the World Cup in “30 Thoughts” on Monday:

Olympic discussions will begin soon. Hockey Canada President and CEO Bob Nicholson, now No. 2 at the International Ice Hockey Federation, contacted the NHL and NHL Players' Association last week about starting the process. Both are willing to get going, it's just a matter of when. Nicholson met in Europe with IIHF President Rene Fasel on Sunday.

Olympic participation will be part of a larger discussion that includes the World Cup and world championships. Ideally, what the NHL and NHLPA would like to set up is a cycle consisting of Olympics in 2014 and 2018, World Cup in 2016 and 2020 and so on. One of the big debates will be when to hold the latter event. Will it be in September as we've previously seen or will it be in mid-season?

So, in theory, the NHL would close down its season in February in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. (Maybe that’s the solution for all those All-Star Game bashers: Make the mid-season classic an every-other-year event in sync with the international tournaments.)

Doing the World Cup in September, where it’s been previously held, is begging for irrelevance, especially here in the U.S. Unless you held it closer to the start of October, perhaps as a kick-off to the season?

(I’ve always been curious about doing the All-Star Game stuff at the start of the season rather than midseason; if it’s a celebration of the game, what better time to celebrate?)

Look, none of us are probably all that keen about shutting down the NHL season for any exhibition tournament – that’s why Brian Burke wanted to play ice hockey in the Summer Games. Is a World Cup of Hockey tournament a worthy reason to do so?

It might not matter if the money’s right. And there’s going to be much more of it for a February tournament than in the midst of the NFL’s weeks and MLB’s pennant race.

Maybe even … GASP! … sell the thing to ESPN?

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