The World Juniors are Now the Premier Hockey Tournament

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MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 05: Members of Team United States pose for a team photo after defeating Team Canada and winning the gold medal round during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship at the Bell Centre on January 5, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Team United States defeats Team Canada 5-4 in a shootout. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The NHL and the Olympics might be dead, at least for the 2018 Games coming up this February in Pyongyang, South Korea. Gary Bettman made the official announcement in April that NHL players wouldn’t be heading to the tournament. Bill Daly announced Monday that the AHL players on two-way contracts won’t participate in the upcoming games as well. This places severe limits on the quality of players fans will see. That leaves people wondering, are the Olympics no longer the premier hockey tournament?

Impact on the Rosters

The NHL has alienated the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. These countries are the ones that make up the base of fans, television viewers, and merchandise consumers. Slovenia, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, and South Korea are competitors unconcerned with the NHL’s rules. They typically don’t field NHL heavy rosters. The Swiss may miss Nino Niederreiter, and Slovenia will lack any star power with Anze Kopitar, but that isn’t a huge loss for either nation.

The country however who can survive the set back most easily is Russia. With many former NHL stars in the KHL, like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, Russia is automatically a favourite in the tournament. Sweden and Finland also have pro leagues to pull from, both of which have former NHL pros amongst its ranks.

Canada and the United States

The rosters of Team USA and Canada will be thinner than we’re used to. Top AHL talents are staying home. It is unlikely that Canada will pull from junior teams, while the US could pull from college teams. Team USA, for example, will be unable to employ the services of Kenny Agostino and T.J. Brennan, the top scoring forward and defenseman in the league.

Former NHL pros playing abroad will get the call. Team Canada will be represented by players like Maxime Talbot, Nigel Dawes, and Gilbert Brule. Team USA could see the likes of Andy Miele and Jonathon Blum donning the red, white, and blue.

The World Junior Championships

This elevates the World Juniors to the top international tournament. With the restrictions on these Olympic Games by the NHL, and with the disparity of talent that will be going to the games, the World Juniors stand alone. This is the last tournament that is a true best-on-best format.

The World Championships has lost most of its relevance, as it takes place in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Top players often decline the invitation, while others remain involved with the playoffs. The 2018 edition of the World Junior Championships will be very seriously contested because of this. The World Championships are an annual dud, and the Olympics are now a toothless tournament. The pride of nations is going to be dependent on the performances of their under-20 teams.

The Benefit for the NHL

The NHL has sent its players to the Winter Olympics since 1998. There will be no countries sending strictly amateur teams. The nostalgia effect will not factor into these games. With the advent of the World Cup of Hockey, it’s unknown how long the NHL will experiment with running its own tournament and avoiding the Olympics.

They will miss a chance to grow the game in South Korea but may return in time to help bring the game to China, at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. They also have a looming headache, as Alex Ovechkin has made his want to play in the games clear. He may inspire other players to speak up as well.

This season hockey fans are going to see a World Junior Championship which might be one of the most watched, and hotly contested of all time. Potential top overall picks Rasmus Dahlin, Joseph Veleno, Andrei Svechnikov, and Jared McIsaac could all suit up for their respective countries and battle for gold. It will likely be more exciting than seeing Mason Raymond or Matt Gilroy suit up in the Olympics.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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