The future participation of NHL players in international competitions will come into focus in the coming weeks, and the head of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson, hopes we'll be seeing more and not fewer global events.
Representatives from the NHL and the Players' Association were scheduled to meet with IIHF president Rene Fasel this week to discuss the agreement that runs out at the end of the season. But the most pressing need for the NHL and its players is to decide how to proceed with the World Cup of Hockey, the Little Orphan Annie of international competitions.
The second World Cup tournament was held in late summer 2004, eight years after a wildly successful inaugural event won by the United States over Canada. Yet with the lockout looming, the 2004 event was met largely with indifference in the United States, although its popularity was stronger in Canada and Europe.
The dilemma for the league is that it is committed to playing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but isn't likely to continue beyond that, especially if the 2014 Games are awarded to either Korea or Russia, reportedly the two frontrunners.
The more palatable solution for the league is to discontinue Olympic participation, which plays havoc with the NHL's schedule, and hope that a return to a regular World Cup of Hockey held in the fall every four years would generate interest and revenues in place of the Olympics.
But that leaves the more immediate dilemma of what to do in 2008, the next logical time for the World Cup of Hockey to be held. A tournament in the fall of 2008 would come three months after the World Championships are held in North America -- set for Halifax and Quebec City -- for the first time. There's also the question of the appetite for a World Cup of Hockey just two years after the Torino Olympics and two years before the Vancouver Games.
Nicholson told ESPN.com on Monday night that he won't try to pressure the league into a timeline to commit to a 2008 World Cup. It's important for the identity of the tournament, or its "branding," to have it on a regular schedule so fans can develop an affinity for the event.
"You can do both [the World Championships and World Cup of Hockey]," Nicholson said. "I just hope it stays on the radar."
It's believed the NHL isn't too keen on having an event in 2008. A decision will be made by year's end.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.