Prior to the 2013-14 NHL season, there was talk that the league will be organizing a soccer-style international champions cup/league for the 2016 season. Although the rumours have somewhat been quieted since, there is no doubt that the Gary Bettman is or will be thinking of ways to host a prestigious tournament like this. I really like the idea of an international champions cup for hockey, here is how I would set it up:
Not many North American hockey fans know this, but there is actually a Champions Hockey League (CHL) in Europe that will be starting this upcoming season. Sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), the league features teams from many professional European hockey teams. There will 44 teams from the SM-Liiga, Swedish Hockey League (SHL), National League A (Swiss), and a few others. However, one huge league that is missing is the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), argued by many as the second-best league in the world. The CHL will finish its group stage by October and have its final in February.
So, if there is already a champions league for hockey, how will the KHL and NHL be involved? Well, now there are three systems where all the major professional hockey leagues in the world can come from: NHL, KHL, and CHL. It would be nice to have a round robin of the winners of the three leagues, but sometimes round robins can be boring because there might not be a final game. Instead, have six teams, and put them in two groups of three. That way, there can be a round robin in each group and the winners of the groups can face off in the championship game.
The teams would be:
NHL Stanley Cup Champion
NHL President’s Trophy Winner
KHL Gagarin Cup Winner (playoffs winner)
KHL Continental Cup Winner (regular season winner)
The Stanley Cup winner has to play about 100 games a year, and adding more with a champions league would hurt. However, with my ‘champions cup’ format, the winner has to play only three games.
The main problem with an international champions hockey league is when to have it. The past World Cup of Hockey events were sanctioned by the NHL and were played in late August and early September. I think having it right before NHL training camp is a good idea because it fits in with the NHL schedule, but is when the CHL begins its season and NHL players may want to get ready for the upcoming season. Having it in mid-July is best. Professional sports are slow in mid and late July. The MLB and MLS are in the middle of their seasons, and that is it.
What about insurance and salaries? If the tournament is sanctioned by the NHL, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, as long as the NHLPA is fine with the circumstances. The players may also be determined to win (unlike previous interleague games like the now-defunct Victoria Cup) because the NHL is behind it.
All in all, I think Bettman would want to do this because it would increase revenue and grow the NHL outside of North America.