COLUMBUS -- The World Cup of Hockey is returning in September 2016 after a 12-year hiatus, the NHL and National Hockey League Players' Association announced in a press conference Saturday at Nationwide Arena.
The first World Cup competition since 2004 will feature national teams from the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, and there will be two all-star teams, one made up of the top 23-and-under North American players and another featuring the top NHL players from the European countries that aren't represented by their national teams, including Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Norway, Denmark and Latvia.
"A two-week, best-on-best international tournament that promises to be one of the best competitions in hockey history," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in describing the vision for the World Cup. "Everything we've been focused on has been to make this a great exciting tournament. A North American Youngstars team and a team of the best NHL European players from outside the ‘Big Four’ European countries enables us to include more of the very best players in the world who might otherwise have been left out of the competition."
The eight-team tournament will start on Sept. 17, 2016, and can run as late as Oct. 1. All games will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The teams will be divided into groups of four, and each team will play three tournament games within its group in a round-robin format. The top two finishers in each group will qualify for a single-game semifinal round. Winners of the semifinal games will compete in a best-of-3 final round.
The games will be played on an NHL-sized rink and under NHL rules and regulations. They will be officiated by NHL officials.
Each team will be comprised of 23 players, including three goalies. More than 150 NHL players are expected to take part in the event. Initial rosters featuring at least 16 players must be named by March 1, 2016; the balance of each roster has to be announced no later than June 1.
Training camps for each team will begin Sept. 4 at a location of its choosing.
"The NHLPA and the players, who direct the NHLPA in terms of what we do, have long been in the forefront of trying to create the best, most competitive, most compelling international competitions," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said. "We think that this has the capacity and believe it will prove to be not only a spectacular event, but as Gary suggested, the most competitive tournament of its type ever played. When you look at the quality of the rosters on all eight teams, as we get there I think that will be apparent."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the League is tentatively planning to schedule opening night for the 2016-17 season for Oct. 12, a date that would give players participating in the World Cup enough time to return to their respective NHL teams for a modified training camp.
Daly said regular NHL training camps are expected to proceed as normal; they would begin Sept. 22 and run 20 days, as per regulations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"There will be some overlap, but having said that you'll be at a point in our tournament where there are only single games left," Daly said.
NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said an announcement on who has the national broadcast rights for the World Cup will be made soon. He said the NHL's national broadcast partners, NBC in the United States and Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, have to bid on the rights the same as any other media outlet.
Photo: NHL.com (Click to enlarge)
"We've grown to a $4 billion business; the question now becomes, where does the next billion come from?" Collins said. "We have a partner in the NHLPA that is just as focused as we are. We've seen it with the World Cup, which is just the next step. There are so many more opportunities."
The six national teams playing in the tournament will be selected by their host federations. The NHL and NHLPA will jointly name the management teams for the North American Youngstars team and Team Europe.
The management team for the North American Youngstars team will be comprised of representatives from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. The process for selecting the pan-European management team is still being discussed.
"We've talked preliminarily with both Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, and they've come to embrace the concept," Daly said. "The way they view it is more American content and more Canadian content in the tournament, a good way to showcase good young players. I think they're going to share management duties and make the coaching decisions jointly. In my experiences they have always been able to play nicely in the sandbox, so I don't anticipate a problem."
Players who are eligible to play for the North American Under-23 team will not be available in the pool of players for the Canada and United States national teams. There will be a cutoff date for age eligibility to play on the under-23 team, but Daly said no decision has been made.
All North American players in the tournament are expected to either be NHL players or at the very least NHL-drafted prospects. There is no rule that restricts federations from sending players who are not NHL players.
"The thrust of the competition in my mind is to showcase National Hockey League players that have achieved that level of excellence, if you will," Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said. "I can't answer that other than that, to be honest with you. But my indications are that [the 23-and-under team] will be a National Hockey League team."
USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johannson said the two North American hockey federations will get together to select a management team that will be tasked with selecting the coaching staff and players for the Youngstars team. He said there will not be restrictions on the number of players from each country.
"We've talked about it in general. We haven't come to a set number, but put it this way, it might end up a 12-11 split but there is not a mandate that it's 12-11," Johannson said. "You're going to get to a set number, and then make hockey decisions like do we have four centers, what about our goaltending?"
Commissioner Bettman said the hope is to hold a World Cup every four years with an evolving format based on the strength of the national teams, particularly those in Europe. He said future World Cup competitions could feature a prequalification tournament to determine the eight countries participating, but there wasn't enough time to put together a prequalification tournament before September 2016.
"We wanted to keep the first one exciting, entertaining and competitive, and get it right," Commissioner Bettman said. "We didn't with the timing have the luxury of a prequalification tournament. We're going to let this evolve. We believe we're going to build off of it and cause it to evolve, so you may see more teams, you may see a prequalification tournament, you may see it with other events. But this is the starting point. This is the foundation of what we wanted to do together."
Commissioner Bettman also said holding the tournament solely in Toronto gives the NHL and NHLPA the freedom to build excitement in the market by utilizing ancillary events while reducing the strain on the players with excessive travel.
"We wanted to be in a central place where we could take advantage of everything the city had to offer, whether it's on the tail of the International Film Festival in Toronto, the ability to do other events like concerts, reducing the wear and tear on players as we started the season with less travel, having to dress and operate multiple buildings," he said. "We wanted to get the first one right. We expect every game will be sold out and we expect there to be an incredible buzz in the air. So being in one place, at least out of the box, made the most sense."