NHL players sound off on World Cup cancellation

Andre Ringuette/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- Steven Stamkos isn't shedding any tears about the loss of the World Cup of Hockey in 2020, as the collective bargaining talks between the NHL and its players resulted in its formal postponement this week.

"There's just not enough time. We're in 2019. It's in 2020. With the uncertainty of the CBA, there's not enough time to properly dissect exactly what's going on and really know [how] that World Cup [was a] bargaining chip ... for the league. There's not ample time during the season for the players to discuss it," said Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning star who won the "best on best" tournament with Team Canada in 2016.

Although, honestly, he doesn't consider it "best on best," either.

"It wasn't 'best on best' ... in the World Cup last time, either. It wasn't. You had a North American team, you had Team Europe, it just ... to me, I wasn't a huge fan of that, to be honest. It wasn't the Olympics," he said.

"Now, I haven't had a chance to go to the Olympics and play. From what I gather, talking to the guys, it wasn't the same feel. Obviously, when you have an opportunity to represent your country, you're going to jump on that. But I think from a player's perspective, the Olympics were something we were really looking forward to and we had that taken away from us. So I'd say the players were pretty upset about that."

The NHL and the NHLPA released statements on Wednesday announcing that the World Cup of Hockey would not be held in 2020, after jointly resurrecting the tournament in 2016 and splitting the profits. The two sides held informal talks over the last two weeks in Las Vegas and Toronto. Both sides have the option to opt out of the current CBA in September 2019. The deal is set to expire in 2020.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman set a January deadline for the NHLPA to declare if it was going to opt out of the CBA this fall or not, in order to have ample time to organize the World Cup and to ensure it wasn't going to be held during a time of labor unrest. Much as they did when Bettman used 2018 Olympic participation as a carrot to extend the CBA, the players ignored this deadline, and another international tournament appearance by the NHL was scuttled.

"The players are focused on finding the proper time to schedule the World Cup of Hockey within the context of an overall international hockey calendar. While we and the league have discussed the possibility of holding the next World Cup in Sept. 2020, we jointly concluded that it is unrealistic to expect that preparations for the event would be completed in time," said the NHLPA in a statement.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who played for Team Sweden in the last World Cup, said that the timing was off for an agreement on the event.

"We want to play in those tournaments. But with the way the CBA looks, a few years down the line, you don't know what's going to happen. So no World Cup plan as of yet, but things can happen fast," he said.

John Tavares, a Team Canada teammate of Stamkos', is a fan of the World Cup but wanted to see it scheduled along with other international events in the long term.

"For the health of our game, having 'best on best' is very important. We don't see it often, so when it happens, it's very unique and special. I know it doesn't happen very often. Obviously, with what's coming up [with the CBA], it's one step at a time. Setting up an international schedule with multiple [events] is what would be ideal," he said. "It was a little unique with the changes that were made, but it was a highly skilled and highly competitive tournament. I think it would be like that again with a great wave of players that have come along. Connor [McDavid], Auston [Matthews] and that young wave of players grew up watching those tournaments."

Matthews played for Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, appearing in that tournament before he ever appeared in the NHL. For the 2020 tournament, the NHL stated its intention to scrap the "Team Europe" and "Team North America" squads in favor of two other national teams, meaning that Matthews would have joined young American stars like Jack Eichel on a loaded Team USA.

As expected, he wasn't happy about that opportunity being postponed, nor the fact that the NHL doesn't have a "best on best" tournament on its schedule at the moment, thanks to uncertainty about the 2022 Winter Olympics.

"Yeah, pretty bummed about it. I had a blast playing in it," said Matthews of the World Cup. "I think all the guys playing in it had a ton of fun. Being in that setting was pretty spectacular."

Matthews is 21 years old and is in his third NHL season, so this is his first NHL collective bargaining rodeo. Is he worried about what the cancellation of the World Cup means to those talks?

"I'm not the guy you should to talk to about this," he said with a laugh. "It's my third year now. I'm not that heavily involved in it, but you understand more and more, speaking with the older guys and having those meetings with the [NHLPA], you get a better understanding about that."

Tavares was 22 when the NHL canceled half of the 2012-13 season due to a lockout.

"I certainly think it's early. I think it's important that talks are happening," he said, when asked if fans should be concerned. "It's the last thing that you want to see happen again, but it's not hard to look back at history and see what the league has done when these opportunities arise. You try to be optimistic, but as a realist, at times we've seen what's happened. We just hope that's not the intent this time."