The NHL and NHL Players’ Association are closing in on an agreement that will put international play back on the hockey calendar for the foreseeable future, starting with a tournament in Feb. 2025.
But it won’t be called the World Cup of Hockey. And it won’t feature an entry from hockey superpower Russia.
“Probably not,” NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh told Daily Faceoff on Thursday in Stockholm, to be featured in an upcoming episode of Frankly Speaking.
Other hockey federations, believed to be Finland and Sweden, made it clear they would decline to participate if Russian-born players were involved in the tournament as a result of Russia’s unprovoked attack and war on Ukraine.
“There’s a bigger issue at play here,” Walsh said. “You have other federations that won’t allow other players to play in the tournament. You have to take all of that into account.”
That has put Walsh and the NHLPA in a difficult position. The union’s job is to defend and protect all union members, regardless of nationality or heritage. What will he say to Russian-born NHL players?
“I represent everybody,” Walsh said. “I’m going to support my guys. It’s a really complicated situation. It’s complicated but yet very unfortunate. It’s an awful situation, you think about trying to separate sport from what’s happening in the world and it’s really complicated right now.”
The NHL and NHLPA have been focused on a four-team tournament for Feb. 2025 believed to involved Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States. They would like to stage games in Europe as part of the agreement, but nothing has been finalized or decided yet. There has also been no agreement on the name or branding of the event. The tournament will likely not be IIHF-sanctioned and thus will only involve players from NHL teams.
“That will be an all-NHL players playing in the tournament because we don’t have an agreement with the IIHF right now,” Walsh explained. “The timeline that we want to do the World Cup is roughly the same that that they do the Worlds. And they have obligations that they have to live up to as well.”
The NHL and NHLPA are still working jointly with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IIHF on an agreement for NHL players to compete in the Olympics again, beginning with the 2026 Winter Games in Milan, Italy. After an initial international appetizer in 2025, followed by the Olympics in 2026, the plan is to announce a comprehensive schedule that alternates between Olympics and World Cup of Hockey every two years.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have something done pretty soon,” Walsh said.
Walsh hinted that the NHL and NHLPA would then follow the IOC’s lead for future Olympic participation with regards to Russian player participation.
“I’m of the mindset that I hope that the world is in a different place in 2026,” Walsh said. “But we don’t know what is going to happen. There’s a good chance the world won’t be in a different place.”
For Walsh’s full view on international competition as a way of growing the game, be on the lookout for his upcoming appearance on Frankly Speaking.