St. Louis Blues: The Double-Edged Sword Of The World Cup

The World Cup of Hockey is getting a revamp and extra coverage this fall. While it’s a fun event, it poses a problem for teams like the St. Louis Blues

The World Cup of Hockey, originally called the Canada Cup from 1976-1991, has been an irregularly scheduled tournament featuring the top players from around the world, playing for their national countries in a FIFA World Cup style tournament. It’s an interesting event, but the tournament itself has only been staged twice in recent years – once in 1996 and once in 2004.

I attended the one in 2004, when the games were staged in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s a fun atmosphere with quality games as well. However, it poses extra problems for teams across the NHL. You can see all the rosters for this year’s tournament here and the Blues are listed just below.

Vladimir Tarasenko – Russia
Jori Lehtera – Finland
Dmitirj Jaskin – Czech Republic
Vladimir Sobotka – Czech Republic
Alexander Steen – Sweden
David Backes – U.S.A.
Colton Parayko – Team North America (U-23 players)
Alex Pietrangelo – Canada

The St. Louis Blues are going to be one of those teams that this tournament is a double edged sword for. On the one hand, you get your players extra exposure. That’s good for any potential deals that might pop up later in the year or maybe even prior to the season.

You also get them playing in actual game situations. Preseason exhibition games are OK for fine tuning, getting that extra bit of fitness back or experimenting with offensive schemes and powerplay setups, but they aren’t real games. Playing in actual games that the players will care about could give them an early edge instead of having them go through the usual feeling out process that sometimes accompanies a new season.

On the flip side of the coin is the worry about injury. These are international teams, but they’re going to be playing on an NHL rink. There won’t be the extra ice that usually comes along with international play at the Olympics, which also typically mitigates the possibility of injury.

These players have a lot of pride and are going to go for the win, which could make them vulnerable to bad hits or sticks to the face. Yes, you have that worry in any game, but the likelihood in a preseason game is much lower because everyone just wants to get to the season healthy.

It’s extra tough for teams like the Blues and their fans given how deep the team finally got in the playoffs. With a disappointing exit came the realization that many players may have hit a wall in the Western Conference Final. While there is no stopping these players from playing, is extra games before the NHL season really good for the team when the players were already tired at the end of the prior season?

The inclusion of Steen and Tarasenko are particularly worrying for those reasons. We will likely never know the true reason that Tarasenko didn’t perform well against San Jose, but fatigue surely had to be a factor. Steen also played some of the hardest minutes of his career and while he wasn’t a force offensively, he spent just about every ounce of energy he had defending some of the best players in the league.

Putting extra miles on those legs even before a new season begins doesn’t sound all that appealing as a fan of one particular team.

Analyzing other individual players, David Backes is an interesting quandary. On one hand, he fits into the argument made against Steen and Tarasenko playing. On the other hand, there is a good chance he will not even be a member of the Blues next season. While that’s a topic we will be delving into in the coming days and weeks, it does still enter into this equation.

If he is a member of the Blues, he doesn’t know to play soft. He’s going to put extra miles on himself in this tournament. That’s not necessarily a good thing for a player that put his heart and soul into this past postseason. If he ends up playing elsewhere, it’s a moot point.

The inclusion of Colton Parayko is fine. The kid is young enough that extra games, especially with the talent he’s going to be playing with, can only be a good thing. Baring some unforeseen cheap shot, he’s unlikely to get injured, so this can only help his development.

Mar 22, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; St. Louis Blues center Robby Fabbri (15) celebrates after he scored against the San Jose Sharks in the 3rd period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports The Blues won 1-0.

Mar 22, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; St. Louis Blues center Robby Fabbri (15) celebrates after he scored against the San Jose Sharks in the 3rd period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports The Blues won 1-0.

The biggest surprise was the exclusion of Robby Fabbri. Given the season he had, you have to wonder what the men in charge of putting together Team North America were looking at. He’s got speed, puck handling, a knack for scoring and a willingness to go against guys much larger than he is.

The only other potential snubs were Kevin Shattenkirk and Brian Elliott. Shattenkirk had a horrendous playoff season and that might have cost him, though Erik Johnson wasn’t all that spectacular in the regular season. Elliott was not going to make it over Carey Price or Braden Holtby, but given the season he had there could have been a strong case to include him over Corey Crawford, who he outdueled in the first round.

I think the thing that hurt Fabbri the most was this being his first NHL season. Players like J.T. Miller, Sean Coutourier and Mark Scheifele had somewhat comparable numbers, but much more experience and thus more exposure to the decision makers. If Auston Matthews was not eligible, it would have been very interesting to see if Fabbri was still not included.

In the end, these players making their international teams probably won’t throw things off too much. There aren’t usually catastrophic injuries in these types of tournaments and the games basically replace the rather mundane preseason matchups.

The worry might be that they miss out on bonding and gelling with the team. The Blues, depending on free-agency and trades, could have quite a different look next year. Not being able to pair the players playing up in Toronto with potential line-mates, could slow the team building process for the opening of the season.

It’ll still be a fun tournament.  It will be fun to cheer on our various players and also Team USA as well.

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey will take place in Toronto, Ontario.  It will take place from September 17-October 1.  All games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.