COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The World Cup of Hockey is making a long-awaited return in 2016.
And the NHL intends to host it every four years.
“We decided that bringing back the World Cup was vitally important,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday during the league’s All-Star game weekend festivities.
“We’re going to let this evolve. We believe after giving the event such a good start that we’re going to build off it.”
To begin with, the 2016 tournament will feature eight teams with all games played in Toronto.
The tournament will start Sept. 17 and end with a best-of-three final series, with the last possible date set for Oct. 1.
The World Cup will overlap training camps, and push back the start of the regular season to the second week of October.
The players’ union is on board as a full partner.
“We have an opportunity here to build this game, and build this culture and create something that everybody on both sides can be immensely proud of,” NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said. “We view this is a first step, although a very important one.”
The league also announced the Bruins and Canadiens will play in the Winter Classic next year on Jan. 1 at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.
The return of the World Cup was the highlight announcement.
It will feature a new wrinkle, with two of the teams made up of multinational players. One team will consist of North American-born players 23 and younger. Another will consist of European-born players whose countries aren’t represented.
The other six teams will be Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland. Teams will be split in two divisions.
The World Cup and its predecessor, the Canada Cup, have been held seven times since 1976 through 2004.
Bettman foresees holding the World Cup every four years and adding more countries.
The timing of the 2016 World Cup comes two years before the Winter Olympics will be held in South Korea. The NHL has not yet determined whether it will allow its players to compete in the Pyeongchang Games because of concerns over travel and time differences.
Bettman said the World Cup announcement “has no bearing on whether we will return to the next Olympics.”
Players are excited about the return of the World Cup.
Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane recalled watching the U.S. winning the tournament in 1996.
“We have a lot of pride in playing for our country,” Kane said. “Being able to be part of something special as this, especially in a hockey hotbed like Toronto, I think it’ll all come together and be a great tournament.”
Canada has won five of the seven tournaments, with Russia winning in 1981.
The one caveat players had is they don’t want the World Cup to be held at the expense of competing at the Olympics, which NHL players have done since the Nagano Games in 1998.
“Olympics are Olympics,” Slovenian-born Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. “I don’t know if that would be a good trade off.”
The inclusion of two mixed national teams intrigued players.
Some wondered how Canadians and Americans can set aside their longstanding cross-border rivalry.
“It definitely would be a little bit uncomfortable,” said Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau, who is from New Jersey. “But at the same time, it would be a great experience getting to play against guys who have been playing in the NHL for a long time.”
There would be an even larger mix of nationalities on the European All-Star team, which has the potential to feature players from as many as nine countries.
Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons — the only Latvian currently in the NHL — was stumped by the question of which nation’s anthem would be played before games.
“That is a good question. I didn’t even think that far,” Girgensons said. “Maybe flip a coin.”
Each team will play three pre-tournament games, including the potential of some being played in Europe. There has also been discussion of having all eight teams play their final pre-tournament games in Buffalo, New York, a two-hour drive from Toronto.
Bettman provided updates on other topics:
— The NHL expects billionaire businessman Bill Foley to launch a season-ticket drive next month to determine whether there is enough interest to establish a franchise in Las Vegas.
— Seattle Mayor Ed Murray met with Bettman last week to discuss the possibility of establishing a team there. Bettman called it “a nice chat,” but noted Seattle lacks a feasible facility for an NHL team.
— The falling Canadian dollar could put a dent into the NHL’s salary cap projection of $73 million for next season. Should the loonie stay at its current level of about 80-cents U.S., the cap could drop to $71.7 million.
— The NHL’s other outdoor games next year will feature Minnesota hosting Chicago at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota on Feb. 21, and Colorado hosting Detroit at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, in Denver on Feb. 27.
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