A search for the world's best
Off Wing Opinion's Eric McErlain doesn't come across as all that big a fan of the just-completed IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia:
After all, how could any ice hockey tournament be considered legitimate while most of the best players in the world are fighting for Lord Stanley? As far as I'm concerned, the World Championships are a watered down version of the Olympics, and not really worth paying much attention to at all.Me? I like the World Championship, but it's always an event you have to sort of just keep in your side mirror with the NHL playoffs in full swing.
Still, if you consider the Olympics an assemblage of the best hockey players in the world, then these playoffs are probably also just a watered-down version of what we saw in Turin. Of the more than 120 players who skated at the Olympics in February, only 17 are still suiting up in the NHL's postseason tournament (18 if you include the injured Erik Cole):
Anaheim. Selanne, Bryzgalov, Vishnevski, Pahlsson
Buffalo. Lydman, Numminen, Kotalik, Afinogenov, Drury
Carolina. Gerber, Kaberle, Hedican, Cole*, Weight
Edmonton. Pronger, Smyth, Hemsky, Spacek
The thing, I think, that McErlain's missing by not watching the World Championship event is just how good some of the players outside of the NHL really are, certainly better than many players on teams competing in the playoffs.
In a tournament full of NHL talent, Swedish netminder Johan Holmqvist, who plays in the SEL with Brynas, was named the World Championship's top goaltender. Finnish defenceman Petteri Nummelin was part of the all-star team, and Swedish brothers Kenny and Jorgen Jonsson were fantastic. Five of the tournament's top ten scorers didn't play in the NHL this season — although two of those, Evgeni Malkin and Slovenian superstar Anze Kopitar, are on their way.
Both Jamie Fitzpatrick and Tom Benjamin also talked a little bit about the World Championship recently, with Fitzpatrick posing the question, "Are we sure the next Stanley Cup champ could beat this year's winner of the Russian Super League or Swedish Elite League?"
It's an appropriate question, one I don't really have an answer for — but after seeing the way this Stanley Cup tournament has played out this year, I'm not sure of anything.