The NHL, and all major sports in North America for that matter, have an exclusivity complex. Over the past several years, the NHL’s market share has paled in comparison to the other big sports leagues on this side of the Atlantic—this year’s All-Star Game the most recent example of how interest in the NHL is waning.
“Grow the game” has been a core goal of the NHL’s for quite some time, and despite their efforts to increase engagement in non-traditional hockey markets like China, it’s the interest at home that the NHL needs to spend significantly more effort strengthening and cultivating.
There are many, many ideas out there from many smart individuals on how the NHL should increase accessibility, increase interest, and ultimately generate more revenue.
One of the most intriguing ideas that has been floating around for a while now is that of introducing in-season tournaments, similar to the Champions League in soccer overseas. While this idea would be a lot of fun, it falls into the same category as relegation and expanding playoffs to include more teams—unlikely pipe dreams. The NHL would never allow some teams to have more games on its schedule than others.
However, one idea I’ve been playing with is to bring back a trophy from decades past: the Canada Cup. But this time, with a completely new twist, an in-season Canada Cup. This idea comes with inspiration from the in-season Stanley Cup that is regularly discussed on 32 Thoughts with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. A Twitter account tracks the in-season Stanley Cup as well.
Here’s my idea on how it could work.
History of the Canada Cup
The Canada Cup was an international ice hockey championship held five times between 1976 and 1991. It featured Canada and the Soviet Union primarily, as well as the United States of America, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Sweden, and West Germany. Canada won the tournament four times and the Soviet Union won it once.
The trophy is shaped like a maple leaf and is made of solid nickel.
My idea is to bring back the Canada Cup in a completely different form.
Premise of the in-season Canada Cup
The Canada Cup would be awarded to the Canadian team that finished the regular season with the best record against all the other Canadian teams.
This would require no additional games added to the schedule, so the NHL would not have to worry about teams playing an uneven number of games, and it would benefit the NHL and the Canadian teams immensely.
Rivalries between all seven Canadian franchises would be instantly revived and recharged, each game featuring two Canadian teams would have much higher stakes that would lead to a much higher quality of hockey, and fans would be even more invested in these games both in the arena, and at home. Despite making up only seven of the league’s 32 teams, three Canadian teams are in the top-seven in terms of overall franchise value, according to the latest data from Forbes.
Canadian teams are hugely profitable, and this is an easy way to capitalize on that fandom to generate more revenue.
It would be easy to implement, and has literally no downside.
How would the standings look right now?
This may surprise you, but the seven Canadian teams play each other almost the exact same number of times this season.
Here’s how the schedule looks for the 2022–23 season:
Each team plays either 15 or 16 games against the other Canadian teams for a surprisingly balanced schedule. To really make this work, an additional game between Winnipeg and Edmonton would be nice, but we’ll just continue based on this schedule for simplicity.
The current standings would look like this:
Winnipeg and Montreal would currently be tied for first place on the Canada Cup leaderboard, but Toronto is actually ahead in terms of points percentage. With just eight games played against Canadian teams so far this season, Toronto has 10 remaining, compared to zero for Winnipeg and Montreal.
Vancouver is the worst team so far, with just eight points in 12 games and only four games left.
The Canada Cup is a no-brainer
This idea would bring back an iconic trophy from hockey’s past, capitalizing on the nostalgia that older hockey fans would have and igniting a new passion for the Canada Cup among younger fans.
It would require zero changes to the NHL schedule aside from ensuring Canadian teams have the same number of games against the others, and has unlimited benefits.
In my eyes, this type of Cup is a no brainer. It will grow the game at home, stoke rivalries, and most importantly generate revenue for the NHL.
This idea is scalable to other groups of teams as well, and simply adds more fun to the NHL calendar. Montreal and Toronto are going to play each other on April 8, just days before the conclusion of the 2022–23 NHL season. In all likelihood, this game is going to be utterly meaningless. But, with the Canada Cup on the line, it doesn’t have to be.