The World Cup of Hockey will begin Saturday, reviving a tournament that has been dormant since 2004 with a slightly altered format. Aside from the format, not much has really changed. Canada won that tournament in 2004 and come into the 2016 event as the heavy favorite.
The thing about short tournaments like these is that anything can happen, but as Canada has shown in the last two Olympics, when they’re on their game, they’re almost impossible to beat. That being said, the margin for error in this tournament is incredibly slim. One misstep in the preliminary round could cost a team their spot in the semis and once it gets to that point, the game could come down to a bounce here or there.
Before we get to our picks, it’s important to know the format. Here’s the quick rundown:
- The tournament is split into two groups. Group A features USA, Canada, the Czech Republic and Team Europe. Group B features Sweden, Finland, Russia and Team North America. Each team will play their in-group opponents once.
- After the round-robin format of the preliminary round, the top two teams from each group advance to a single-elimination semifinal.
- In the event of a two-way tie, the winner of the head-to-head matchup between those teams advance. If there is a three-, or even a four-way tie, it goes to ROW, which excludes shootout wins from the total. If still tied after that, total regulation wins is used, then goal differential, then total goals scored.
- The winners of each semifinal will advance to a championship series, which will be a best-of-three. The first to two wins is crowned the World Cup champion.
Here’s a quick look at each team, followed by predictions for the entire tournament.
Canada: The clear favorite, Canada has unmatched depth, particularly at forward. When Joe Thornton and Claude Giroux are on your fourth line, that’s pretty ridiculous. The big question for Canada is Carey Price’s readiness after such a long injury layoff, but if he struggles at all, Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford are right there. The home team looks to be in good shape to extend their international dominance.
USA: With a focus on trying to counter Canada’s skill with grit, the U.S. is taking a bit of a gamble. While they’re likely to get out-possessed for much of the tournament, they have skill and speed through enough of the lineup to threaten for a title. A lot of USA’s hopes rest on the shoulders of their goaltender, Jonathan Quick.
Czech Republic: Despite a lack of depth and a blue line that doesn’t prominently feature any players who play top-pairing minutes in the NHL, they are going to give their group mates some fits. Goaltending is key and they have two good ones in Michal Neuvirth and Petr Mrazek. The big question for them is if they’ll have enough scoring to contend.
Team Europe: The oldest team in the tournament has had some struggles in the exhibition games, particularly when playing speedier teams. Anchored by veterans Anze Kopitar and Marian Hossa up front and Roman Josi on the back end, they shouldn’t get run out of the building. Goaltending is a big concern as well.
Sweden: Boasting the deepest blue line in the tournament, the Swedes haven’t looked as threatening as everyone expected them to be during their pre-tournament games. But because of their defense and the experienced goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, they remain favorites to win Group B and threaten for the tournament title.
Finland: You can never count out Finland in an international tournament, but they’re abnormally young this year. Often anchored by seasoned veterans like Kimmo Timonen or Teemu Selanne, they’re opening things up to a younger generation. The blue line is a little shallow and the scoring depth appears concerning, but Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne have game-stealing potential between the pipes.
Russia: Boasting one of the scariest collections of forwards in this tournament, Russia remains a big threat to challenge for the title. They should be able to score quite a few goals with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko leading that skilled forward group. The defense is a primary concern for this team, while they’re expecting Sergei Bobrovsky has shaken off last year’s nightmare season to give them a chance.
North America: By far the fastest team in this tournament and maybe even the most skilled, they’re going to threaten to make it out of the group. Led by Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau up front, they’ve got a great collection of forwards. Defensively they might struggle against some of the bigger teams, but they’ve got a Stanley Cup winner between the pipes in Matt Murray. They’re going to be both fascinating and fun to watch.
World Cup Predictions
Group A results: Canada, USA advance to semis
Group B results: Russia, Sweden advance to semis
Why: Picking Group A is pretty easy. The tournament was set up to give USA and Canada the best chance to advance and, frankly, they should with ease. Group B is much tougher. Like many people, I think North America is going to impress and be competitive, but I also think experience counts. I think this group is going to be incredibly tight, but I’d give the edge to Russia and Sweden because both will be difficult for the young team to control the puck as easily against.
Semifinal 1: Canada defeats Sweden
Semifinal 2: USA defeats Russia
Why: Canada will have their hands full with Sweden, but I’ll give the edge to Canadian goaltending and their overwhelming forward attack putting big pressure on Sweden’s incredible defensive group. The U.S. would probably have a hard time with Russia’s forwards, but the Americans have enough skill to exploit a relatively shallow D corps and would appear to have the edge in net as well.
Game 1: Canada 4, USA 2
Game 2: USA 3, Canada 1
Game 3: Canada 5, USA 2
Why: I’d expect a highly-entertaining, physical series between the two clubs. In the end, Canada gets the edge due to their ability to control the puck, forcing the U.S. to rely on opportunism over an ability to effectively, consistently counter Canada’s attack. They’ll need the Canadians to make mistakes to have a chance because USA’s grit and grind won’t be enough to slow their opponents down in a three-game series.
5. North America
8. Czech Republic
You never know what can happen in these short tournaments, but it seems like expecting a high-entertainment factor is the safest bet of the bunch. These teams are absolutely fascinating and it looks like all of the players are taking this event seriously. It should be a lot of fun for fans to follow.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / 2016 World Cup of Hockey predictions: Canada surprises no one, beats USA in final