Players have been reacting chiefly negatively to the NHL's decision to not participate in the Olympics.
1. Evaluating the Strength of Tradition
NHL is trying to replace the Olympics with this "World Cup" device. Now let's put hockey world cup into context with football/soccer world cup. The World Cup of Football was started in 1930 in Uruguay and has been a major catalyst for diplomacy in the world ever since. Like the Olympics, it was a reason for people to celebrate every four years their shared love of one sport, even done in the spirit of competition. It has since only grown in popularity and prestige and has been faithfully adhered to. This wasn't just about love of football, it was about bringing people together, just like the Olympics were, except football's popularity was able to do it on its own.
The NHL World Cup is the NHL owners complaining that they don't want to extend the season by three weeks and take a big break in the middle, especially if their players get injured (like Tavares did the last time).
This "World Cup" of hockey has been basically something different every time it has taken place, an idea continuously resurrected to fail in a different way. (I'm not talking about Summit Series and Canada Cup here).
The Canada Cup had more meaning. Canada just hosted a fun hockey tournament with the Summit Series in a similar spirit that Uruguay had hosted the first World Cup. It had turned into the Canada Cup, but it wasn't organized in regular intervals. It wasn't "designed" to be a World Cup... it was something Canada hosted and invited others to play in. People swallowed it up because there was no other major international competition with the best players.
The Olympic gold medal in 1998 ended up being the "Hockey World Cup", and even without NHL participation, will still be the star at the top of the Winter Olympic tree.
This "World Cup" of hockey has been treading water since 1996, and will not cease to do so as long as it has little culture or history or tradition behind it, because it is in between one thing (Olympics) and the other (football World Cup) and is neither as the result... just a weird abomination. The most exciting one took place in the lockout year. The last one was almost completely dull except for the Gimmick team and barely even talked about these days.
But the NHL contrives to make it replace the Olympics because owners have turned it into a financial matter that eclipses the culture.
2. A Winter Tournament
Players want the World Cup of hockey, if it becomes a thing, to take place midseason anyway. The reason is because hockey is on everyone's mind in the heart of winter, and not in the ass end of summer.
They played Canada Cup and the Summit Series in the ass end of summer anyway because it had nothing to do with the NHL and everything to do with diplomacy and sharing the love of a sport.
But we have, every year, "Hockey Day in Canada", and we have other events like the Classics.
World Cup and Euro Cup take place in June, when people are primed
for football. September works for Canadians and Russians, maybe not so much for other nations.
3. True Tradition
The Summit Series and Canada Cup were better iterations of it because they carried more meaning. Think of Summit Series: it was West vs. East... Canadian Society vs. Soviet Society... it was a culture clash. It was a proxy for two nations to have a playful spar. This meant a lot to Canadians, and probably almost meant as much to the Soviets. The series was really close.
The Canada Cup sort of continued the animosity, especially when remembering the best of three 6-5 games in 1987 when Gretzky and Lemieux played on the same line. Canadians had gotten wrecked in 1983 and it was payback time. These are the memories they tried recreating with the World Cup with that best of three, but did it work? Not even close.
I'll get to why later.
4. Filling the Void
The Olympics have the tradition, and though it was only in 1998 that the NHL participated, it was still a marquee event. I remember Canada losing the gold medal game in 1992 to the Russians (or "Unified Team"
and 1994 to the Swedes (Forsberg's one hand extension deke in the shootout).
Hockey will still be watched, though not quite taken as seriously. Most of the players North America sends over will be juniors. If it was another World Juniors tournament, I'm sure the world would be fine with that. The NHL players won't be... they're not making the memories.
The NHL, they'll be in their offices checking their revenue, I suppose. If they succeed at not taking part in the Olympics (they never wanted to) and redirecting major international competition to the World Cup, the World Cup would essentially be the major international competition... but at this juncture, much less authentic than the Olympics.
I'm not entirely opposed to ending the Olympic participation in order to do something better.
The World Cup needs a major re-brand and they need to tie up the history of the event.
Unlike football, which has that clean four year interval, our major international competitions took place in 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2016... and the 2016 barely counts because of the gimmicks that deflated the severity of the event. The 2014 Olympics was by far more genuine.
They want the World Cup to be a major international competition but the funnest aspect of it was the Under 24s because they played a fast, juicy game.
If there was a major international tournament featuring, for example, only players under the age of 25, that would spark immense interest. We love the World Juniors in Canada... it's a holiday tradition.
Perhaps what they should do is have two major international competitions in two year intervals, one featuring ALL players, and in the two year splits, one featuring only Under-25s.
I watch EuroCup and World Cup in two year intervals. They're fun competitions... well until group play is over.
Or maybe they allow all the players under 25 to attend the Winter Olympics?
Ultimately, what makes international tournaments so fun to watch is that it's about nations and national pride, and has nothing to do with professional sports, revenue, and what not.
If they rebrand it, the NHL needs to get as far away from it as possible.
We love the World Juniors in Canada not just because of tradition, but because the sanctity of the game is only slightly tainted by the NHL (tainted by permissions: only most the players get to go).
If you were to ask Europeans about it, I'm certain they would especially feel this way. They don't want to watch something that the NHL treats as its fire hydrant; they want to watch us play their brand of hockey, too.
What killed this last World Cup the most was that it felt like an NHL goose egg, and players outside of North America don't always want to eat North American... especially if their players are being held for ransom just because they want to be the best they can be.
Players treat the NHL like a husband, but sometimes they need a "girl's night out" and international competition is it. If the NHL orchestrates the event, then it's a "girl's night out" that brings a jealous boyfriend along. No... no NHL allowed, just the players.