Lots of talk, little action at World Hockey Summit

 

 
 
 

TORONTO — In terms of crossing items off a checklist, this week’s Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit was not all that productive.

The National Hockey League and the Kontinental Hockey League did not sign a new transfer agreement. Gary Bettman did not commit to sending players to the Olympics. And, despite early reports, Hayley Wickenheiser did not announce her intention to retire from the international game in four years.

But the four-day event was plenty useful, if only because it sparked discussion and sometimes passionate debate.

“I do believe it’s important for everybody to have found something that was concrete and they can use,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. “I didn’t realize until I had a chance to have an in-depth conversation how similar the Scandinavian countries are to the U.S. and Canada at the grassroots level.”

Aside from the panellists’ complaints over the comfort level of the stools, here are five other issues that were discussed with some enthusiasm:

The junior game

• The issue:

Hockey’s Big Seven is in danger of becoming the Big Five, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia struggling with the losses of their top-end teenagers to the Canadian Hockey League. From 1997 to 2005, 527 Europeans played in the CHL. Of those, 255 were drafted into the NHL and only 4.2 per cent went on to play at least 400 NHL games.

• What was said:

“The effect is that the entire development system in Czech and Slovakia is getting weaker every year . . . 10 years ago we had 80,000 (junior) players. Now we’ve got only 30,000.” — Czech national team director Slavomir Lener.

• What’s next:

Some proposed limiting the number of foreign players a CHL team could have on its roster from two to one, as well as changing the CHL import draft age from 16 to 18.

European expansion

• The issue:

For the past several years, the NHL has been playing regular-season games in Europe in hopes of creating an international footprint. Some have suggested this could be the first step toward European expansion, or possibly a Victoria Cup, where the Stanley Cup winner plays the other league champions in a best-of-the-best tournament.

• What was said:

“Try to come. Good luck. I mean, this is our territory, and I will fight like hell and not allow anybody to come from abroad.” — IIHF president Rene Fasel.

• What’s next:

For the first time in 20 years, the NHL will play in Russia when the Phoenix Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes challenge two KHL teams to exhibition games. But neither league has any intention of taking another step anytime soon.

Sochi Olympics

• The issue:

The Vancouver Olympics was a huge success for hockey fans in North America. But Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said a lot of that had to do with the location and because Canada played the United States in the final. And while the players and fans want to be back at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the NHL is yet convinced it makes business sense.

• What was said:

“First of all, going to the Olympics for us is a very mixed bag. It can be very, very, very good, but even when it’s very, very, very good there are some issues that are attendant to that.” — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

• What’s next:

Though the National Hockey League Players’ Association said that Olympic participation would not be a bargaining chip, it looks like this issue will be decided at the 2012 collective bargaining agreement.

World Cup of Hockey

• The issue:

Everyone enjoys watching best-on-best hockey, whether it is the Olympics or the IIHF world junior championship.

So it makes sense that the World Cup, which was last played in 2004, would be resurrected on a quadrennial basis.

The question is when to have it. The NHL favours the off-season, so it does not interfere with the regular season or playoffs. But the players’ union wants the tournament held in February.

• What was said:

“I think you run the risk of scuttling this whole discussion if you bog down on (a mid-season date), where it’s clear that this poses massive problems for NHL teams. And now you want to do it every second year? To me, that puts an undue burden and undue break on this discussion.” — Brian Burke.

• What’s next:

There was hope that the World Cup would be ready for 2012. But, like the Olympics, this issue will not likely be decided until the NHL and players’ union discuss a new collective bargaining agreement.

Women’s hockey

• The issue:

Canada and the United States have grown so far apart from the rest of the world that the sport is in danger of being excluded from the Olympics. The lack of parity is not an easy thing to fix, considering some countries (Russia was absent from the discussions) have a medieval approach to the women’s game.

• What was said:

“If not anything, people are talking about it. Women’s hockey needs to be talked about. Overall, let’s get excited about it and create this opportunity.” — Canadian national team coach Mel Davidson.

• What’s next:

Wickenheiser is talking with the NHL about a professional women’s league that would feature five to six teams and attract top-end talent from all over the world. That would at least give women in European countries an opportunity to continue playing.

National Post

mtraikos@nationalpost.com

 
 
 
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