The World Cup and its Importance to Hockey!

Has the word cup lost its luster from the Canada Cup days? Yes. Has the World Cup lost its luster from the last one eight years ago? Yes. Is its popularity loss directly attributed to the current woes of the NHL today? Yes. Has it lost its importance and excitement of play? No. Watch the World Cup because it will be a long winter without hockey unless something drastically changes in the CBA talks. You will see great hockey, great talent and great excitement. This is a coordinated event with NHL and the NHLPA on and international stage. Both sides are showcasing that the world’s best hockey players play in the NHL. This was probably the last thing they agreed on and they are getting no where fast with the current CBA talks. The NHLPA wants to make sure their players get a steady increase of pay over time and the NHL wants to cap it off without hurting the sports popularity even more.

With that in mind, you can see how this event is directly connected to the politics of the current CBA crisis. High profile unrestricted free agents Peter Bondra, Alex Kovalev, Pavol Demitra and Teemu Selanne might be thinking that their play at the World Cup will directly influence the type of contract they will receive in the new CBA. You know that every NHL, WHA, and European team who is interested in these players will be looking at this tournament very closely.

Another twist to the tournament is that the NHL and NHLPA have been considering missing the 2006 Turin Olympic games and come back for Vancouver 2010. They cannot commit on the administrative headaches of stopping the league for 2 weeks for the Olympics if they do not have a CBA in place. This means that this will most likely be the last time you see players born in the 60’s such as Lemieux, Chelios, Leetch, Hull, Bondra, Federov, Numminen play in a major international tournament.

Politics aside, here is a brief synopsis of how the teams will finish and why:

1.Canada

The loss of the major cornerstones Blake and Pronger will hurt the power play but the competent replacements in Boumeester and Hannan will still make it the best defense in the tourney. The changing of the guard has started to happen when you think of Iginla, Heatley, Brad Richards are in the top 5 Canadian forwards. Martin Brodeur with Loungo and Theodore really does not make the loss of Belfour traumatic news.

2. Finland

They can definitely be considered the dark horse. With the smooth skating and playmaking abilities of forwards Koivu, Jokinen, Selanne, Nieminen, combined with the hard hitting Ruutu, they will be hard to contain. A solid skating defense including Niinimaa, Numminen, S. Salo, with Kiprusoff in goal will make it difficult for other teams to sustain a prolonged attack.

3. USA

Not as strong of a team as in Salt Lake City but a solid changing of the guard in net with a lot of veteran skaters still makes them a lock for a medal. This is the coming out party for Robert Esche, Ty Conklin and Rick Dipietro. They are all competent young goalies that have something to prove on the international stage.

4. Sweden

T. Salo is just not a good enough goalie but he has an excellent team in front of him. If he plays well then they are legitimate gold medal contenders. Forsberg, Sundin, Naslund, Alfredson, Lindstrom, Ohlund and many more headline a very strong skating team.

5. Czech Republic

Net out they are a strong team but the talent depth is mediocre. Vokoun is a solid starting goalie. He will have some help with Fischer, Hamerlik, and up front with Elias, Jagr, Rucinsky, Straka and Sykora. The death to coach Hlinka cannot be great for morale.

6. Slovakia

The best team Slovakia has ever had and if ….uhhh…Budaj or Stana…..plays well, then they can be a medal contender. Chara, Bondra, Demtra, Zednik, Hossa, Gaborik, Palffy, Satan will give them a killer power play.

7. Russia

Poor poor Russia. This has to be the worst Russian team on paper ever seen. There is a lot of strife with the players and management. Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starting goaltender as it stands it’s obviously a huge weakness. While they do have some very talented players with Kovelev, Federov, Kovalchuk, Yashin, Gonchar, Zhitnik, and Ovechkin, its not the same Russia we are used to seeing when this team could be so much better with Habibulin and others.

8. Germany

They have Kolzig Hecht, Sturm, and they will line them all up along the blue line to create the ever popular German Blue line wall that will keep it low scoring but not in their favor.

Fans, NHL, and the NHLPA will all enjoy this World cup. After it is all done, there will be empty boardrooms briefly filled with arguments of cost certainty. The NHL has a war chest to sustain financial stability and the owners will still be rich. The players will play in other leagues for less money but still will be rich. We the fans who pays the high priced tickets that the owners makes us pay to cover the insane contracts that they gave to the players to begin with are once again the victims. Try and forget about the CBA greed and enjoy some great hockey because we deserve it and much