That the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association will have had at least 11 years between true international best-on-best competition will ultimately be the lasting stain on the legacy of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr.

Yes, you read that correctly. Park the three blocks for Bettman’s tenure cash hoarding. They were ruthless but brilliant. The seven percent swing in revenue since 2013 has been worth about $2.7 billion additional dollars in owners’ pockets during that time. They are billions with a ‘b’. If it was your business, you’d shut down for four months if it meant even more.

Then there was news on Friday that the NHL and NHLPA made a joint decision to play a World Cup of Hockey in 2024, as had been in the works for over a year. The two sides said that “the current environment is not feasible to stage” a tournament at the time.

Instead, their joint statement said they “will continue planning for the next World Cup of Hockey, hopefully in February 2025.”

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Let me translate for you: With Russia’s continued disgusting invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the NHL and NHLPA are crossing their fingers and hoping the situation will resolve itself by then so hockey can pretend nothing ever happened happened and include the Russian-born players again.

The same league that spoke boldly in February, issuing statements condemning Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and saying they were suspending business operations with Russian partners, pausing their Russian-language social media and cutting official communication with the Russian KHL, he suddenly has no interest in drawing a real line in the sand to exclude Russian players from a 2024 World Cup.

So when it became apparent that other European federations such as the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden did not agree with the participation of masked Russian players by skating together under a banner that was not the Russian flag, the NHL and NHLPA bet on the tournament entirely.

Yes, an international champion can be crowned without Russia, even if it means removing the official “best-on-best” label.

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So if you keep score at home, Putin still wins. In addition to the chaos he has wrought in Ukraine, he has held hostage the sport that is closest and dearest to him – the game he is accustomed to repudiating his authoritarian politics – at least for 2024.

But the real losers are hockey fans from all over the world. Don’t play again until 2025 at the earliest, it will make 11 full years go by REAL best international game. Why the 2016 World Cup of Hockey Doesn’t Count: Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were playing for the fictional Team North America in that tournament.

Think about it for a minute. Perhaps the best hockey player the world has ever seen, McDavid broke into the NHL at 18, but she won’t get the opportunity to don Team Canada’s red maple leaf until after his 28th birthday. This is a colossal management failure.

When it comes to international hockey, the NHL always seems to be asking the question: what’s in it for them? They haven’t exactly hidden that they have their hand constantly extended. The NHL doesn’t like the Olympics because they get next to nothing in return. They feel little pressure to compete in the Olympics because, especially when playing in a distant time zone, what’s much harder to quantify on a spreadsheet is the value of overall game growth.

But it’s not about growing the game in Asia or beyond. Think about this from an American perspective.

With all due respect to the 1996 World Cup of Hockey champions, this generation is the best collection of American-born talent ever. It’s not close. We did our homework. We screened the first Team USA roster and the Team Canada roster – and this is the first time in a loooong time that the USA might actually be able to claim supremacy over Canada. They at least have a fighting chance.

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It would be an epic showdown to see Auston Matthews and the Tkachuk boys take on McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Sidney Crosby et al. Do you honestly think it wouldn’t grow the game in the US? These are NHL All-Star Game-type rosters, but with so much more at stake, playing to keep, and country pride.

Some of the best and most memorable moments the sport has ever seen have been on the world stage, from the 1972 Summit Series to the 1980 Miracle on Ice, from the 1987 Canada Cup to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. You can recite them all without batting an eye. The saving grace of Paul Henderson, the call of Al Michaels, Gretzky in Lemieux and the golden goal of Crosby.

The NHL unilaterally withdrew from the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, citing the disruption to their season. There have never been any plans for a World Cup in 2020 out of fear that with the imminent end of the CBA, it may never get off the ground. The NHL pulled the plug on its return to the 2022 Beijing Olympics due to the pandemic. And now that we are finally out of COVID-19, the 2024 World Cup is postponed again.

The Hockey World Cup is the sport’s most bastardized tournament. You might as well call it the 12-year tournament, because apparently that’s how long the gap is between the competitions. It was played in 2004, then revived in 2016, and now…

If you’re counting on a World Cup in 2025, don’t hold your breath. The key word in that sentence was “hopefully”.

To play a tournament, then, would mean the NHL would have to suspend its season for about 17 days in two consecutive Februarys, for a World Cup in 2025 and then again for the Winter Olympics in Milan in 2026. We’re actually engaged in the competition international. For two parties that talk so much about the growth of the game, all that seems to be is hot air.

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