STOCKHOLM – The World Cup of Hockey could be making a comeback in the not-too-distant future.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Paul Kelly, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, met the media before Sunday's Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 game between Ottawa and Pittsburgh at the Globe Arena.
During those comments, to a mostly European collection of journalists, Bettman said the League is actively looking to reinstate the World Cup of Hockey, which was last played in 2004.
"I don't want to have a World Cup press conference today, but we are in discussions about picking a year, starting it and going on a regular cycle so we can have World Cups every four years," Bettman said. "We think that works very well for us because it's out of the season and we can control what goes on around us."
Traditionally, the World Cup has been played in September, just before training camps open. Bettman also hinted strongly that the event could make a return in 2011, the first year on the international sports calendar where the World Cup of Hockey would not compete against another major international sporting event like the Olympics or soccer's World Cup.
Kelly says that the NHLPA is also excited about the return of the World Cup of Hockey and wants to make it a fixture every four years going forward.
"We are in those kinds of discussions and we think we can actually grow the format a bit beyond where it's been in the past," Kelly said.
Bettman also addressed questions about the NHL's continued involvement in the Olympics after 2010 in Vancouver, the future of regular-season games being played in Europe and the League's position on expansion onto the European continent.
On the Olympic question, Bettman said that it is too early to answer what the future holds.
"The owners understand, as do I and Paul, that we have the most international North American sport. Our players grow up in this game competing internationally. They love the international competition,” Bettman said. “We're going to have to make a decision as to whether or not the Olympics is something that gives us benefits that at least equals if not exceeds the determents disrupting the season has."
Disruption is also the key theme in the intensifying discussions about the possibility of placing NHL teams in Europe. Bettman believes the rigors of travel leave European expansion a theoretical exercise, at least for the time being
"As a practical matter, it's probably closer than it's ever been as the world continues to shrink from a media and technology standpoint," Bettman said. "In terms of the long-term vision, people have been talking about NHL Europe for years and years and years.
"I suppose if supersonic transport were routine and you can get from here to there in three or four hours and you weren't dealing with those types of issues, it would probably be even closer yet."
For now, the Premiere games will have to be enough to whet the NHL appetite of the European fan. And, Bettman says that the European fan will not go hungry anytime soon.
Last October, Anaheim and Los Angeles opened the regular season in London. This year, two regular-season games between the Senators and Pens were played here and two more, between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, were played in the Czech Republic.
Bettman said Sunday that he would like to offer at least two more Premiere events next season.
"Our hope would be to do at least as many games, if not more," he said. "But we're also going to have to look at the logistics. And we're also going to have to look at the timing because our schedule may be impacted by the break we take next year by going to the Olympics.
"But my hope is, if we can put it together, to do at least what we did this year, if not more."