Zawaski: Hey Hockey Fans, Get On Board With The World Cup

By Jay Zawaski–

(CBS) In the age of hot takes, apathy and a general “everything sucks-ness,” it’s easy to dismiss something potentially great based solely on its face. The upcoming World Cup of Hockey is among those dismissals.

The World Cup of Hockey is an international tournament, featuring NHL and international stars from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia. There are two other teams (North America and Europe), but we’ll get to them in a second.

The World Cup of Hockey, which was originally known as the Canada Cup, began in 1976. It featured some of the best and deepest lineups from around the world, leading to some of the greatest hockey games ever played and some of the greatest rosters ever assembled. In 1996, the Canada Cup changed its name to the World Cup of Hockey. Team USA captured gold in the ’96 tournament, while Canada won the last World Cup in 2004.

The 2016 reboot is designed to recapture some of the past glory of those tournaments while simultaneously working to replace the NHL’s presence in the Olympic Games. The Olympics have been a huge draw ratings-wise but have provided a real challenge to the NHL teams, who are forced to go on a midseason break.

So why should you care about the World Cup of Hockey? It will be high-level hockey. Plus, I’m here to dismantle all the arguments against it, one by one.

Argument: This is just like the World Baseball Classic, and the World Baseball Classic is terrible

Rebuttal: This is true in that it’s a preseason international tournament. The similarities end there. These players are invested in the tournament. Most elite hockey players have played in the annual World Junior Championships, which create some of the best tournament play you’ll ever see. The international rivalries mean something to these players.

Thursday marked the beginning of World Cup pre-tournament exhibition games. The games were physical, fast and competitive — and didn’t even count.

The World Cup will be a high level of hockey and entertaining as hell.

Argument: So many star players have dropped out

Rebuttal: This is true. Great players like Duncan Keith, Sean Monahan, David Krejci, and Jaromir Jagr (among others) have opted out or dropped out after being named to their teams. In most cases, the players are dealing with injuries or old age and are (correctly) prioritizing their NHL seasons. Their absence has nothing to do with lack of interest or desire.

Argument: What if someone gets hurt?

Rebuttal: Of course, this is a risk that can’t be ignored. Just Thursday night, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa left Europe’s exhibition against North America to get X-rays on what turned out to be a bruised foot after he took a puck off of it. This could happen in a preseason game or a practice just as easily as it would in a World Cup game. Of course, this tournament is far more intense than a typical practice or preseason game. It’s really my only concern with the tournament.

Argument: It’s just a money grab

Rebuttal: Yes, it is. Who cares? It’s more competitive hockey than you would have gotten. You’re not obligated to buy a jersey or a hat or T-shirt. Just watch the games on ESPN.

Yes. You read that correctly. All of these games are on ESPN and its family of networks.

Argument: I prefer the Olympics

Rebuttal: In years past, the intensity of the World Cup and Olympics has been even. In fact, the World Cup follows the rules of the NHL, as opposed to international rules. The NHL rules allow for a more physical game. The NHL-sized ice surface means the games will look and play at the speeds hockey fans have grown used to.

Argument: Team North America and Team Europe are dumb ideas

Rebuttal: This I agreed with, at least at first.

I’d probably prefer that Germany, Slovakia and other European nations have their own teams, but Team Europe ensures that every team will be competitive. Germany and Slovakia wouldn’t really stand a chance at winning this, but if you put the best of those remaining nations on one roster, you have a pretty solid team.

View: World Cup of Hockey schedule

Team North America is a team of the best young (age 23 or younger) American and Canadian talent in the NHL. That means  players like Connor McDavid, Brandon Saad, Auston Matthews and Colton Parayko. Team North America dismantled Europe, 4-0, in its exhibition opener and should be the most exciting team to watch in the tournament.

As hockey fans, we want the game’s young stars to shine and thrive, right? This is a perfect way to showcase these young studs while also including the league’s proven stars like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast with James Neveau of NBCChicago.com that you can listen and subscribe to here. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.

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