Pressure is on to deliver the goods at World Cup

TORONTO -- A year from now, the World Cup of Hockey will be revived in Toronto.

A tournament that has been abused and ignored and treated like a used dish rag for basically all of its 20-year existence is being given new life.

A joint production of the NHL and NHLPA, the eight-team tournament is an audacious experiment -- some might even say gamble -- that has the potential to become a seminal moment in the game of hockey. Provided it's done right.

The early returns -- and they are just that, early returns, projections, guesses, really -- are that the league and the players have hit on a winning formula that will fuel an ambitious plan to globalize the NHL and its game.

"I think it's great," New York Islanders captain John Tavares told ESPN.com. "Best-on-best, I think we all agree, we don't see it enough in hockey.

"I don't remember the last time anything like this has been in Toronto, obviously known as the hockey hub of the world," Tavares added. "For me, growing up here, being in Canada, being in Toronto ... [it's] pretty cool, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, I would love to be a part of it."

Not that Tavares has to worry as a virtual lock to be part of a Canadian team that is coming off back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014.

Cory Schneider isn't necessarily a lock to make the U.S. squad next fall, but if the New Jersey Devils goaltender puts up numbers like he did a season ago, it'll be difficult to keep him off the roster. Schneider, like all of his brethren interviewed by ESPN.com over the past two days, is enthusiastic about the tournament and its potential.

The Boston-area native recalled watching the first World Cup of Hockey in 1996, a watershed moment for USA Hockey as the U.S. defeated Canada in the emotional best-of-three finals, and suggested there will be kids around the world who will watch next fall and embrace the game in a similar fashion.

"In terms of impact, especially in 2016 where it's going to be promoted and it's going to be available everywhere that every hockey-playing kid in North America or the world can probably watch," Schneider said. "We have a chance to really do some great things for not only hockey in general but USA Hockey because, again, I remember that from '96, so I can only imagine kids watching now and see that and think this is pretty cool.

"I think it's great they're doing it. I think it's a great opportunity."

The original World Cup of Hockey was born out of the old Canada Cup tournaments that were held periodically throughout the 1970s and 1980s before NHL players began competing in the Olympics. And the '96 World Cup was a roaring success.

But after the NHL began participating in the Olympics starting in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the World Cup of Hockey fell by the wayside.

It was resurrected in 2004 in a tournament that failed to replicate the drama and impact of the '96 event. Coupled with the fact that it would fall immediately before a season-long lockout, the event was forgettable, and for more than a decade it seemed that would be the tournament's legacy.

But with the NHL and its players looking for a way to expand the brand globally and with owners having grown cold on Olympic participation, the tournament was revived, but with marked differences.

While there will be exhibition games in Europe, Canada and the U.S., all of the 2016 tournament games will be in Toronto, at the Air Canada Centre. And instead of opening up the tournament to eight hockey nations, it was decided that six main countries -- Canada, the United States, Sweden, Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic -- would be joined by two all-star teams. One of those squads, Team North America, will be made up of Canadian and American players who have not turned 24 before Oct. 1, 2016. The other will be Team Europe, made up of players from European nations that do not have their own team in the tournament, such as Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany and Switzerland.

The management teams for both those teams were announced Tuesday in Toronto at a press event that included players and management from all eight teams.

Already there is a tremendous buzz surrounding the tournament as a whole and specifically these two all-star teams.

People are already talking about how they will they come together, especially the North American squad, which will feature young Canadian and American players who have grown up competing fiercely against each other since the time they were children.

That is the challenge for Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, who will share the managerial duties.

Is there an element of gimmickry to the two teams? Perhaps.

But their inclusion will guarantee that the vast majority of players who take part in the tournament will be NHL players, and that should be a stepping stone to increased interest around the globe. And the bottom line is that with Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid, Brandon Saad and Seth Jones expected to play for Team North America, and established stars Zdeno Chara, Anze Kopitar and Marian Hossa expected to suit up for Team Europe, both teams have a legitimate shot at making it to the finals.

"There is no question that this will be a success," said Franz Reindl, the head of the German Ice Hockey Federation and the president and team leader of Team Europe, "no question about it."

Reindl understands the history of the tournament, having played in the 1984 Canada Cup and then serving as head coach of the German team in 2004, and he believes the revamped World Cup of Hockey will be embraced around the world.

"For me as a European, I think we have a big chance to grow the game in big markets," Reindl told ESPN.com. "At the beginning, I was not so in favor with the concept. But the more I'm in, the more I get excited. It's just great to have so many nations involved and so many players from different nations involved. This will help to reach markets we never thought about before. This will make the World Cup 2016 into a big success."

If he's right that success will lay the foundation for a steady stream of international hockey events down the road, including a Ryder Cup kind of competition pitting top North American players against top players from the rest of the hockey world, likely two years from now, in a major European center such as London or Berlin.

Also, the NHL would like to see a return of regular-season games played in different European cities, something that happened for a number of seasons after the 2004-05 lockout.

And the Olympics remain very much on the NHL's radar with the recent announcement that Beijing, China, will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

That will come four years after the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the NHL is considering whether the two tournaments might give the league an unprecedented opportunity to expand the game into that part of the globe.

But the success of next year's World Cup is key to ensuring that the other dominoes fall in the right manner for the league and the players.

The head of the NHLPA, Donald Fehr, told ESPN.com that the '16 World Cup cannot be seen as a simple one-off event but rather a unique hockey experience that will build into something larger.

"I think it puts a stake in the ground: We're here, we're going to do things differently, it's going to be first class," Fehr said.

"And then we have to solidify it by saying, 'And there's going to be another one in four years' and we're going to do other kinds of events on an ongoing basis. We need to eliminate the notion that this is just a sort of a one-off, 'Why don't we do a tournament?' Players are committed to that, I think the owners are committed to that, so it'll get there."

NHL COO John Collins, the man behind the successful Winter Classic events that have helped elevate the league's profile in recent years and a key figure in the rebirth of the World Cup of Hockey, agrees that next year's tournament is a key element to the league's long-term plans.

"I think this one is unique," Collins told ESPN.com. "It's not supposed to be the Olympics. It's not supposed to be the world championships. It's not the world juniors. This is an event that is co-owned and co-operated by the league and the players, which I think in and of itself says that we have a lot of skin in the game. We each have a lot of skin in the game. And that's important to build out from that."

And so a year from now -- if the NHL and the players have done their job correctly -- the eyes of the hockey world will be focused on Toronto and the game's players.

Will it become another watershed moment in the game?

Will it become part of hockey lore, in the same way that the 1987 Canada Cup, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 1972 Summit Series have become the stuff of legend?

Martin Urban, the head of the Czech hockey federation, believes it can be all that and more.

"I expect this event will be the best hockey event ever," Urban told ESPN.com. "This event won't need any special promotion, it will promote itself."