Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A proposal for Olympic hockey reform

I like Olympic hockey as much as the next guy, but what I can't stand is 8-0 games between Canada and Norway that feature goaltenders that have day jobs going up against $130-million of NHL talent.

All the while, all I can think about is how it's too bad the Olympics don't have Canada play all of its five or six games against other contenders. As it stands now, we may not even see Canada-Russia, which is what we've waited four years for.

Here's my proposal for how to change the tournament (originally posted on Twitter in various rants earlier today):

Top six ranked countries should play five games in Group A: 
Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, U.S., Czech

Bottom six play in Group B for two quarter-final berths: 
Switzerland, Belarus, Slovakia, Latvia, Norway, Germany

The initial group stage suddenly has high stakes against great opponents: Beat good teams, you get to face a Group B team in sudden death and have a much higher chance of moving on. Lose in the early going, and you've got a very tough opponent in the quarter-final.

For Group B, it's win and you move on; otherwise, you're toast after five games. 

Canada, Russia, Sweden, etc., should never face Italy, Norway, etc., unless those teams earn the game with a few wins. It really weakens the entire tournament to waste round-robin games on lopsided opponents – and there's zero reason why they can't reform the format.

It's two weeks of what should be the best hockey we see in a four-year period. Right now, it's only that for a couple of the games and that's just too bad.



At 1:11 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Kyle Roussel said...

I'm all for trying to limit blowout games (mostly for the mercy of the team being spanked), but this leaves me with some questions.

If we all agree that the top 6 teams are better than the bottom 6, (and I think everyone would) then in theory you could have a Belarus or even a Norway advance at the expense of Canada or Russia. Unlikely, but possible.

Does that make sense? You could argue that it puts the pressure on the super powers to be good in the preliminary round, but inevitably good teams are bounced, and weak teams advance.

Limiting blowout games is accomplished, but turns the playoff round in to a farce.

And if you're prepared to go this route, then you have to be prepared to follow through post-tournament with re-seeding the teams. Lets say for example Sweden and Finland have bad preliminaries are eliminated from medal contention. Switzerland and Germany, on the other hand have good preliminaries. In this case don't you have to relegate Sweden and Finland to group B and let them fight their way back in to Group A? After all, the weak team did advance to the medal round. There should be a reward for that, no?

And what do you do with Women's hockey? If you feel this way about 8-0 wins, then you must have an even stronger stance with 18-0 wins.

At 1:14 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Bone said...

What about women's hockey where really, Canada and the US are the powerhouses? There really isn't a way to reform that one to make it fair. Is it legitimate to have a completely different format in men and women's hockey?

At 1:15 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I think you're missing a few things here. Not even sure where to start, really.

The seedings are based on world rankings, which are determined based on multiple international events, including the world championships.

Belarus and Norway can't advance over Canada or Russia unless they win a quarter-final game that those more established countries lose.

At 1:17 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Bone, stuff like this drives me bananas. Men's and women's hockey already have far different formats... there are 12 men's teams and only eight women's.

Is that a major issue now?

At 1:18 p.m., February 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I get what you are going for and it certainly would create more exciting games their is one fatal flaw.

The Olympics should be about every country having an equal chance. Your system has already relegated 6 of the teams to also ran status, and that is not what the Olympics are about.

At 1:19 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Every team can still win, no? The other alternative is cutting the tournament down to eight teams like on the women's side.

Is that more inclusive?

At 1:19 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Jacob said...

What might make more sense as an equalizing factor, and not require a confusing tournament structure, is to just keep the NHL and other pro leagues out of the Olympics. There's too much risk of these guys getting injured already for their NHL teams to be comfortable, so lets send the bright young stars who aren't in the pros yet. It seems to me that would level the field, since even if there's a talent imbalance between countries it should be as wide.

At 1:23 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Jeez, is that what people actually want? Go to no best on best games at all?

That would make the Games pretty well irrelevant.

At 1:24 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger jkrdevil said...

Playing off of the 10 team tournament idea you had on Twitter. Instead of dividing in into upper and lower divisions (where no one will want to go to B pool games). You have 10 teams into 2 groups, and then sort of a Big East basketball tournament style knockout.

The two groups would be (based on the current rankings) Group A: Russia, Finland, USA, Belarus, Slovakia; Group B: Canada, Sweden, Czechs, Swiss, Latvia

You play your pool in round robin play (4 games). Pool winner automatically advances Semifinals, Second place automatically to the quarter finals. 3rd and 4th place play a preliminary cross over round. Last place in the group is eliminated.

The medal round teams probably only play 6 or 7 games (what it is now) and you get more competitive round robin games with more at stake. Sure there might be a few blowouts but it is better than the current format where outside one or two games they aren't interesting until the last day of round robin.

At 1:25 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Jacob said...

Seriously? The US Miracle on Ice team was amateur hockey players. I don't see how that makes it irrelevant.

At 1:27 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

How amateur was that Soviet team they beat? Is that a level playing field?

The Miracle on Ice is a great story, but it's from another era. The Olympics haven't been about amateur athletics in a long, long time.

At 1:35 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Back in Black said...

Well, I like it. Even more, I'd like to see a best-of-three final, but it's too much to ask in such a short tournament. I do feel a little bad about Slovakia dropped out of the top group, but they've been trending in that direction.

Kyle: what you missed is that all six teams from Group A go to the quarterfinals. They're playing for seeding. Those games are still no less meaningful than the current Russia vs. Latvia games. Only two teams from Group B will go to the playoffs, which is how the current system will turn out anyway.

Olympic soccer has an under-25 format, I believe. However, I don't think that option or a re-run of the WJC would get rid of the blowouts. And it would hardly be fair to let the KHL and SEL send their best players while banning the NHL.

At 1:42 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Jeff Pappone said...

I have a better idea. Every four years, we shift the World Junior Tournament by about six week and have those kids play for Olympic Gold. Solves two problems: First gets rid of the fat cat NHL players who shouldn't be at the games anyway, and second it helps ensure that the same countries don't stand on the podium every time.

At 1:45 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

The same six countries win the medals in international hockey at every level. It really doesn't shift at the junior level.

At 1:51 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Kyle Roussel said...

The first thing to be done is to determine which is the lesser of two evils:

To exclude many countries because they aren't good enough,


Watch teams get humiliated in front of the world.

You can just cut out weak teams, keep the elite (which probably doesn't jive with Olympic ideals) and get to the point, or you leave things as is and wait until the weaker countries complain about it.

Has anyone ever bothered to ask the Norways of the world how they feel? Maybe they don't see things as we do. Perhaps they are proud as hell of their carpenters-turned-Olympians, despite the ass-kickings. Perhaps Belarus and Slovakia are fine with the way things are; happy to develop at their pace, and proud to participate on the world's biggest stage.

Would they be ok with a tiered system that would clearly draw a line between the weak and strong?

It's easy for us to sit here in Canada, the hockey hotbed of the world and wish upon a star that the weak teams stop "wasting our time". Unfortunately, this tournament is not about Canada, or any other one country.

Despite the numbers and ratings and dollars, this hockey tournament is intended for world participation, not just the elite 6.

At 1:52 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Talon Carde said...

Why not use the format from 98 and 2002, but the NHL lets players from the teams in the first round go.

That system worked, after all we got to see Belarus beat Sweden, and all the games in the first round were great.

The biggest complaint I heard was that teams like Slovakia couldn't "compete" because their NHLers were not allowed to go since the NHL schedule was still going.

So, go back to that format, let the NHL players go to ANY game they want to play in, and we're good.

At 1:55 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Kyle, I want a competitive hockey tournament. This isn't about being inclusive; besides, the women's side has only eight teams for a reason.

If you want ever team in there, why not go to 32 and have Canada in a draw with Australia and Great Britain?

Fact is, Norway was losing 10-0 to Canada at the Olympics 20 years ago and they still are now. It offers nothing to the tournament.

At 2:02 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Unknown said...

It seems like a reasonable enough proposal (though I disagree completely with people who feel like they need to help teams not get embarrassed, this is not little league, these are adults who should be able to handle a loss).

I think the point that people would not attend the bottom tier teams games is more than likely true and would certainly be an issue.

I don't care for your approach on twitter though, there is no need to demean the efforts of organizations like the IHUK, FDMH, or IHA. Sure they are not currently elite nations but there is no reason to belittle their work. Hopefully more and more nations become competitive in international hockey, that is the goal of the IIHF afterall, and it should be the goal of all good hockey fans.

At 2:09 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Jeff Pappone said...

Eight teams have won medals at the WJT in the recent past, including Switzerland and Slovakia. In the Olympics, you have to go back to 1976 before one of the big six aren't hogging the podium.

And maybe these lesser teams aren't taking gold, but at least they have a shot at a medal. In 2009, Slovakia was the wow team, while this year it was Switzerland.

Plus, I'd argue that the younger players bring an unknown to the games that the NHLers simply don't. In the WJT, we never know who will be the surprise, which makes it more exciting and interesting to watch. Seriously, who had heard of Nino Niederreiter before last Christmas?

At 2:13 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Slovakia and Switzerland both won a single bronze 11 and 12 years ago. Since then, 11 medals for Canada, eight for Russia, etc.

The differences you're seeing there are the variations in the strength of teams in a single birth year at a given age group.

At 2:14 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

William, I'm not belittling anyone. What I'm saying is they don't belong in the Olympic competition.

Australia, etc., being there isn't all that absurd if we're aiming only to be inclusive.

At 2:24 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Kyle Roussel said...

I agree James. I didn't get much out of last night's game either. It's a slippery slope when we start booting out some teams based on how bad they are because they don't suit our desires as hockey fans.

Let's remember the Olympic Creed:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

I will agree with you that this hockey tournament is a different animal unto itself, and is treated as a separate entity (at least from the fans), but that creed is tough to get away from. Competitive athletes want to measure themselves against the best, and this tiered approach essentially denies them the chance to do that.

If you start the petition to change the guidelines of participation, and you got the countries in question to agree, I'll sign it. But otherwise, we're pissing in the wind.

Could we not try an approach that would help level the playing field, still give the best countries the edge, cut down on massacres, and alleviate some pressure on the NHL?

What if an NHL/KHL team could only send a maximum of 1 or 2 players per country to the Olympics? In this case, the Canadian Team loses 1 or 2 of Marleau, Thornton, Heatley and Boyle. The Sharks and the NHL have 2 less players to worry about losing to injury, and the playing field is leveled somewhat.

Another approach could be to limit the teams to 6-9 professional forwards, 4 pro defensemen and 1-2 pro goalies.

In this way, you still have a tournament that has some star power, lesser teams have a chance to remain in games, amateurs get a sniff of the Olympic dream (which also helps massage those who think pros should not be there at all), and NHL teams can breathe easier.

And as a bonus, we get to avoid the ridiculousness of the "Team Canada unveiling" hype.

At 2:29 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Andy said...

As stated on Twitter, I, as a Norwegian love that we can get these games, to get attention around hockey in Norway. Sadly though, the culture around hockey here is still too closed/exclusive for people to catch on as much as they should. But hell, it feels crazy and fun to see old teammates and opponents duke it out against Crosby and co.
From a neutral point of view I like the old system where many teams play for 2 spots against the top six. Many teams get to participate, and the best teams only meet the best.

At 2:30 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Unknown said...

James, I agree, they do not belong in the Olympics currently. I probably judged your tone as negative too quickly. I can be a little protective of British and Australian hockey for a few reasons. Hopefully one day we can have a 32 team tournament where all teams are competitive.

I like your system though, its actually a little ironic that people seem to be so harshly against it when it is really just a microcosm of the relegation system that already is in place in international hockey.

To the idea of selling group B tickets you could of course package together Group A and Group B tickets. It would probably depend which nation is hosting the games, but I imagine that would sell all the tickets in Canada (and in Sochi next games for that matter). You could still charge solid amounts for the playoff rounds as well.

At 2:33 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I'm all for developing hockey around the world... I think that's fantastic.

But the Olympics are not the place for that to happen.

At 2:42 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Matt said...

Sorry if I sound dense, James, but is there any difference between what you're proposing and the format in 1998 & 2002?

At 2:46 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Yes. In 2002, there were 14 teams, with eight playing off in two groups to see which two moved onto the next round. Then those two joined the top six in two more groups that played in round robin games.

Under my system, with only 12 countries, teams below the bottom six would only meet the top six in a quarter-final game and not in the round robin games.

At 2:56 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Talon Carde said...

Mirtle, you say you are for developing hockey, but that the Olympics is not the place to do it.

Where then? Can you name one single event that would garner attention like this? Think of all the young Norwegian kids watching these games, saying "I want to beat Canada one of these days" and maybe getting into the game, that may not have ever been exposed to it?

Every team who meets the criteria should be given a chance to compete, I just personally liked the 98/2002 format better.

Honestly, they need to put 1 single format that they stick to rather than changing it so much. I hate trying to figure out "what are the rules this time" for the format.

At 2:59 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I've already said this, but Canada beat Norway 10-0 at the 1992 Olympics. That defeat did very, very little to develop Norwegian hockey to where it is today.

The place to develop hockey is at the grassroots level. Those countries need more people participating at very low levels and it's something that will take decades and decades to pay off. Switzerland and Germany are finally getting closer to where they're starting to produce NHLers more regularly, and that's a shift that's happened at very low levels and due to to their native leagues improving.

Getting beat down by Canada and Russia every four years isn't what sets that in motion.

At 3:07 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Talon Carde said...

Despite the fact they are producing better players, do you think Germany is going to really do any better? I wouldn't be shocked if Canada/Switzerland isn't 8-0 as well.

I agree that just showing up at the Olympics won't make your national program, but the motivation to be there is what will. If teams are happy coming and losing every year, who are we to stop them?

Does it really matter if they lose every game 8-0, 10-0, 7-0 or if the teams lose every single game they play 2-0, 3-1, 2-1?

At 3:12 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I agree that just showing up at the Olympics won't make your national program, but the motivation to be there is what will. If teams are happy coming and losing every year, who are we to stop them?

Where does this argument end, then? 12 teams? 20? 32?

I want a competitive tournament. You want to include everyone. Those positions aren't agreeable, so what's to debate?

At 3:15 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger saskhab said...

Whoa, having flashbacks commenting on your old digs, James.

It's actually sad that past host nations like Norway, Japan, and Italy haven't had any noticeable improvements since their games. Obviously it's too close to throw Italy under the bus completely, but it is very doubtful the hockey program there is any better as a result. Sure, Norway earned their spot in these games for the first time ever, but it's more an incredible circumstance than anything else (they're clearly Team #12 here).

I'd love to see the World Cup revived to do a full round robin of 8 teams, who earned their way to the tournament (no automatic Germany selection like before when Kolzig was their goalie). After that, have a best of 3 Final like the Canada Cup between the top 2 teams. Run the tournament in cities with two arenas, or at least close by (think New York/New Jersey, Philly/DC, Toronto/Buffalo, LA/Anaheim). If they could book the arenas for two weeks straight, it should work. If not, move the tournament around and conclude with a big showdown.

At 3:15 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Kyle Roussel said...

James, to be fair, Norway was beaten 10-0 by Canadian amateurs (yes, I know, Lindros, Juneau and other NHL talent was there). Yesterday they lost by a similar score, but to the world's best players.

The score may not reflect it, but the Norwegians acquitted themselves quite well for nearly half the game in a situation they knew to be all but hopeless.

I'm not going to say to what level Norway has come to in terms of development, but take a look at the number of players either in the NHL, or on the periphery that are from Norway:

Can we find a comparable list for 1992? Maybe, or maybe not, but I'd bet my last dollar that the list was not nearly that long.

At 3:39 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Kyle, I think you should start tuning into the various world championship B and C level tournaments.

Me, I just don't get it. Canada-Norway isn't interesting, compelling or anything worth my time. If they're going to do this every four years, let's play games that mean something and have some intrigue. Norway can battle teams in its own weight class.

At 3:45 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger saskhab said...

By the logic that Norway actually benefits from these games against Canada and the USA, we should have major junior teams play against NHL teams every once in a while. You know, to improve those players and team programs out.

At 5:06 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Back in Black said...

To be honest: how many Norwegians are actually watching hockey during the world's biggest Nordic skiing competition? It's a little bit like saying it would help the development of Canada's handball team to get hammered 15-0 by Slovenia.

At 6:22 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Andy said...

kylerussel has a great point. Norway had zero NHL players, had only had one guy in the NHL (Bjørn Skaare, 1 game for the Wings in the seventies) ever and had maybe had 1 or 2 other guys drafted in 92. Now, in an environment where Norwegians care more about hockey and the ice hockey federation is starting a program to build more ice rinks we meet the NHL stars instead of some measly amateurs. It is a big difference

At 6:23 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I think once teams get more competitive, and have more NHL players, etc., they should expand the tournament. For now, there are realistically only six to eight teams that have a hope of a medal.

At 6:30 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Kyle Roussel said...

James, as you "twittered" not long ago, the Polish have picked up on your article, and are none too pleased with your stance.

First off, thanks for posting what most of us would have otherwise missed.

As I alluded to in one of my previous comments, have any of us stopped to ask the lesser teams what they want? As mentioned in the Polish article (I'm taking google translate with a grain of salt) some of the weaker teams consider it an honour to play against the stronger teams as a measurement to see where they stand. And closer to the end of the article, it rightly states that the Olympics are all about the David vs Goliath scenario.

I would suggest that the Olympics are precisely the place for the weaker to face the strong (as much as I prefer to see a close game, I believe more in the Olympic ideal). Let the World Championships and other International tournaments be the place where you create tiered systems based on haves and have-nots.

Again, I'm on board with the sentiment of your argument, but it completely flies in the face of what the Olympics are about.

At 6:35 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Canuckfan said...

James your proposal is excellent, and I am puzzled by some of the disagreement. I wonder if maybe your initial wording left some of your readers confused? For me, your idea is brilliant. One benefit of your plan is that it gives teams from the lower group something to shoot for. They can actually accomplish something tangible, i.e. making the playoff round, which is close to impossible under the current format.


At 6:40 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Kyle, all this Olympic ideal stuff is just silly. This is a competition of elite athletes, many of whom make millions. It's big money, in so many ways (media, tickets, etc.), and it's not about looking out for the little guys or amateur sports or any of that.

If it was, then why have we gone from 14 to 12 teams? Why not have 30? I'm sure they all want in.

Let's have qualification standards, like they do in other sports. No. 1: You can't lose your games 8-0. No. 2: You have to have some NHL-calibre talent on your roster and have shown an ability to play with the top six countries in the world.

I think the goal of the tournament should be for it to be competitive and to promote the sport. Canada feeding Norway eight goals does neither and is really a waste of everyone's time.

At 7:59 p.m., February 17, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kyleroussel pretty much has it. Watch the weaker teams play - they may not be expecting to win a medal, but they look happy to be playing where they are.

You want a more competitive tournament? Watch the NHL. The Olympics is certainly about the best athletes from many countries of the world competing, but that requires it to be inclusive and not have this weird segregation you suggest. Putting the teams like Norway against the countries with elite teams shows respect for those countries. If I were a member of one of the weaker hockey countries and someone told me that my team was to play in the "special" group of teams, I'd be insulted.

At 10:15 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger Justin said...

The BIG problem with your proposal is that the "Group A" Teams will play 5 round robin games with no chance of being eliminated at the end of the round. That seems to be quite a waste of 5 games only to play for seeding. In my opinion that took a lot of the edge out of the preliminary rounds when they had such formats in '98 and '02 (somewhat similar to what you're proposing).

I'm not a huge fan of the current format either, but at least group winners +1 get to skip one playoff round, but personally, I'd rather only the top 2 in each group plus the two best 3rd place finishers advance to the quarterfinals.

I like jkrdvl's idea better with two groups of five. I would tweak where only three teams advance from each group instead of four. Single elimination would begin with a 2 v 3 crossover round, group winners directly advancing to the semifinals awaiting winners of the 2 v 3 round.

As for the women's tournament I think probably dropping two teams wouldn't be horrible. In the first tournament they did one round robing group of six. In the medal round it was 1 v 2 for gold, 3 v 4 for bronze.

At 10:32 p.m., February 17, 2010, Blogger forbes said...

Phatns2pid, give your head a shake.

As James mentioned, standards aren't a foreign idea to the Olympics. They exist in other sports, specifically to ensure that a quality of competition is met. Just because my country doesn't choose to send an athlete or a team in a particular sport doesn't mean me and my buddies can apply and go.

There's a reason why there isn't a Jamaican bobsled team this year or one didn't go to Turin. That's because they did not qualify. There's a standard, a line in the sand and they were unable to live up to it.

The same goes for hockey, in this case, only 12 teams qualify. What James is suggesting is that to change the format so that the field is more competitive for everyone. Norway would benefit more from playing against Latvia, Switzerland and Belarus instead of being pounded by the US and Canada. This would also provide more enjoyable entertainment for the fans, where every game is actually a competition.

At 7:53 a.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger ddawwidd said...

Don't you guys think it's up to Norway to ask for changing the Olympic format? I mean, if they benefit that much from games with Latvia or Belarus, maybe it's them who should ask for it?

When Canadians say that they want to change the rules for the sake of weaker teams, it's smoke cover. Truth is, fans of stronger teams don't want to see blowouts because they're boring games. People can talk whatever they want about benefit of the weak, but it all comes down to their own interest.

I'm from a completely irrelevant hockey country (Poland) and I'm a huge Canada fan. But it annoys me to be constantly reminded that weak teams are not worthy to compete with Canada, Russia or Sweden. Part of sports are upsets and, believe me, fans in countries like mine live for those upsets and remember them for all their lives.

Besides, I have two sidenotes: if it was 2002, we would all be sure that Belarus stands NO CHANCE against Sweden, eh? And two: as for a country that finished 7th in the last Olympics [behind "weak" Switzerland], Canada should have way more humility after ONE game. I'm saying this as a guy, who's absolutely in love with this country and who has a Canada jersey in his room.

At 11:48 a.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger Kyle Roussel said...

@ddawwidd - I like what you have to say. As I mentioned in my first comment, I'd like to avoid seeing these slaughters, but not at the cost of altering Olympic ideals.

When the countries that are being beaten by many goals start asking for it to change, then I'm listening. To me, any talk of creating a sandbox for the big kids, and another for the small kids smacks of elitism, and that's not what the Olympics are about.

At 11:58 a.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Besides, I have two sidenotes: if it was 2002, we would all be sure that Belarus stands NO CHANCE against Sweden, eh? And two: as for a country that finished 7th in the last Olympics [behind "weak" Switzerland], Canada should have way more humility after ONE game.

I'm not even writing this as a Canadian... it applies to fans of the tournament in general, from all of the top hockey powers. We want to see better hockey and this tournament is only delivering part of what it could.

An elite hockey competition, between the best players in the world, is not about inclusiveness. It just isn't.

Belarus still gets a chance to beat Sweden in my system, Switzerland moves into the top six if they routinely beat Canada, etc. It's all based on the world rankings, which teams can easily change if they display an ability to be competitive with those teams.

The top six wouldn't always be the same, and Slovakia, the Czechs and Americans could easily find themselves in Group B. It adds drama to the round robin, which is thoroughly lacking right now.

At 12:10 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger p. said...

Under your proposed system, Switzerland would not have had the chance to beat Canada 2-0 in 2006 during the round robin tournament. Do you believe that match was competitive and the outcome predictable?

At 12:12 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Sure they could play Canada. Beat the other Group B teams, face Canada in an elimination game, and beat them then.

As I've already mentioned, Switzerland's close to joining the Group A anyway. Good for them; that'd make things even more interesting.

At 12:22 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger p. said...

If you change the format, you alter the likelihood as well as the overall impact of valiant upsets. A traditional hockey powerhouse getting beat by another traditional hockey powerhouse is not exactly a compelling storyline, and you lessen the significance and the possibility of a Group B-level team upsetting a Group A-caliber team because they simply wouldn't compete against each other within the tournament.

To draw a comparison, this would be akin to changing the NCAA basketball tournament format so that Top 25 ranked teams only play each other in a preliminary rounds. The thrill of any elimination tournament is in the unexpected and unpredictable upset, and by improving the odds of having close games based on the international ranking of strong teams, you reduce the chance of any emerging team surprising a perennial contender. Sweden beating Canada for the gold may be considered an upset, but wouldn't Latvia upsetting Russia be a more remarkable accomplishment for a developing hockey program?

At 12:26 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

The upsets are so few and far between that I find them far from compelling. All they seem to do is give people fodder for suggesting Norway should stay in this tournament despite the fact they get blown out regularly.

It's not comparable to the NCAA tournament; the talent gap is nowhere near as large as in international hockey. Teams like Switzerland, etc., should definitely have a chance to beat the big dogs (and they would) but teams that can't beat Switzerland (Norway, etc.) should not.

At 12:32 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger p. said...

Not comparable? The lowest ranking team to ever win the NCAA tourney is an 8th seed. So why, after 70+ years of unbalanced competition, do they still have 64 teams playing instead of only 32?

At 12:35 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Because the games aren't 8-0 every time over the past two or three decades?

At 1:07 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger p. said...

No #16 seed has ever beat a #1 seed, and I would consider final scores of 120-40 to be comparable to 8-0.

At 1:08 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Hey, I'm not a big March Madness guy, so maybe they need some reform there. Couldn't tell you. I can't see how those games are worthwhile, especially if it was an event held every four years and which involves only five or six games for even the top teams.

International hockey realistically only has six to eight teams than can win a medal and the rest have a difficult time competing. That's just the reality right now.

At 1:25 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger p. said...

My point is that you can't predict upsets. I can't imagine a single soul alive could've predicted that the US amateurs would upset the Big Red Machine in 1980. If that tournament had been seeded according to current level of international competition at that time, would the US have even played against the USSR that year?

That's all I'm trying to say. If you take away the apparent competitive inequities for the sake of "meaningful" games, you eliminate the possibility of something truly memorable taking place in favor of the predictable.

At 1:28 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Okay, but the U.S. could have simply won their way to the final in the system I've setup. The underdogs still get a chance to play as long as they can win their games. They can still win gold, etc.

Belarus beating Sweden every 12 years is really just a fluke. I remember the great games between excellent teams more so than the horrible hockey game that was Switzerland 2, Canada 0 in 2006.

At 2:23 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger Back in Black said...

A traditional hockey powerhouse getting beat by another traditional hockey powerhouse is not exactly a compelling storyline

With all due respect, I don't care if it's a compelling storyline, it's a much more entertaining game. The Olympics are only once every four years, why should we have a tournament where Canada plays Norway but might not play against Russia or Sweden (and almost certainly not both)?

Under Mirtle's format, all the best teams play each other at least once. Those are the games I want to see.

At 3:20 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger p. said...

why should we have a tournament where Canada plays Norway but might not play against Russia or Sweden (and almost certainly not both)?

Because my understanding of the Olympics is that everybody competes, period. Many countries participate in numerous events even when they have no history of winning or even placing competitively in any of those particular events. The Olympics should be about inclusive competition and not about singling out just the highest percentile based on recent performance to see who prevails.

Belarus beating Sweden is exactly the kind of upset that the Olympics should be promoting. You may not consider the Swiss upset memorable, but I bet the Swiss hockey program does. To draw another comparison, the World Cup occurs once every four years, and based on group plays, sometimes the dominant soccer powerhouses do not necessarily play each other, even in the elimination tourney. But when they DO play each other, it's more special as a result. Instead of competition being manufactured by design, it is earned through victorious merit.

Perhaps the hidden Canadian agenda here is that you'd rather have your homeland lose to more respectable teams than Group B material?

At 3:25 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Yeap, Norway sure lay down a beating there.

It doesn't have anything to do with being Canadian or Swahili. The women's tournament has only eight teams for a reason; why not the men's side?

At 4:27 p.m., February 18, 2010, Blogger Back in Black said...

Many countries participate in numerous events even when they have no history of winning or even placing competitively in any of those particular events.

No, they don't. That's already been pointed out here many times. The French, Italian and Kazakh hockey teams are not here, and it's not because they didn't want to be.

Qualification, brackets, seeding, favourable start times, etc. are pre-determined in all kinds of Olympic sports based on rankings established at previous competitions.

In 2002, Belarus and Germany qualified for the quarterfinals as the bottom two seeds. The exact scenario of Belarus over Sweden could occur just as easily in Mirtle's scheme as in 2002.

At 7:38 a.m., February 19, 2010, Blogger SkammelsrudGPV said...

I think its important for hockey as a sport world wide to let the small nations face up against the powerhouses.

Hockey is a fairly irrelevant sport in Norway, but matches like the ones against canada and the us got so much attention in the press here that it might convince more Norwegians to try hockey. That might in turn mean more Norwegians in the NHL and less blowouts games in future olympics.
Soccer went through a similar process with the African nations in the world cup. Countrys like Ghana and the Ivory Coast are now serious contenders.

At 8:03 a.m., February 19, 2010, Blogger SkammelsrudGPV said...

Whats so special about hockey anyway? Why not just boot out anyone that don't have a chance of winning from the olympics. Lets start with norways hockey team, then we kick out the ghanesian alpine skier, then we drop every canadian/american cross country skier and biathlete. We won't even hold the halfpipe for men, noone but shaun white has a realistic chance to win that one.

In the olympics participating is more important than winning.
The reason we set the limit at twelve teams is simply that the olympics only lasts two weeks.

At 3:41 p.m., February 19, 2010, Blogger Matt D said...

It's just simply not true that, in the Olympics, participating is more important than winning. It is, in many sports, the absolute highest level of competition, and Olympic Golds count more than World Championship medals. It is decidedly NOT an 'everyone gets a participation medal' school sports day. The motto, after all, is 'faster, higher, stronger', not 'in Timbits hockey, everybody wins.'

James' point is that this is hockey's only best-on-best tournament. Given that the NHL only releases players for 2 weeks every 4 years, it's a shame the tournament isn't set up to make sure that we actually see lots of best-on-best hockey.

Compare hockey to soccer. Soccer has some kind of best-on-best tourney every 2 years (WC every 4, Euros every 4, African Cup of Nations every 2, etc...) These tournaments last over a month. They also have very long (multi-year) best-on-best qualifying campaigns. A fan of Spain, or Brazil, (or England) gets to see their best national team play dozens and dozens of times every 4 years, often in very competitive and meaningful games against other countries' best. And of course, getting into the WC or Euros is hard-- real quality sides are left out every year. (32 teams make the WC, but there are way, way more countries that have legitimate quality teams. Hockey lets in a greater proportion of its national sides into the Olympics than soccer does into the WC.)

In hockey, on the other hand, best-on-best is limited to a single 2 week tournament each Olympics, in which a team will play a max of 6 games. Given these constraints, wouldn't it be nice to see some actual best-on-best hockey?

If hockey were to revive the World Cup, then it wouldn't matter much if we let France and Italy and Norway into the Olympic tournament. Or if we switched to U-20, or barred NHL players, or whatever. But it's a real shame that we almost certainly won't get to see Canada play Sweden AND Finland AND Russia (and see Sweden play Russia AND Finland, and see Russia play Finland, and so on...)

And as for developing hockey: sure, we might get some Norwegians interested by seeing their national team get blown out, but wouldn't we grow the sport much more across the world by showcasing, on the world's biggest stage, lots and lots of really exciting hockey played by top teams?

At 3:56 p.m., February 19, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Exactly. Well said, Matt.

At 12:56 p.m., February 20, 2010, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

Incidentally, I was wondering if an 8th team composed of the rest of the world's-best players would stand a chance here:

G: Hiller, Greiss, Huet

D: Streit, Skrastins, Bartulis, Salei, Ehrhoff, Seidenberg, Tollefson, Schubert

F: A. Kostitsyn, S. Kostitsyn, Grabovski, Goc, Sturm, Hecht, Thoresen, Vanek, Kopitar, Boedker, Nielsen, Park, Wolski

There might be a few dual-citizenship guys you could add to this team. But I imagine it would still finish consistently 8th.

At 9:07 a.m., February 21, 2010, Blogger Spezzal Teams Playa said...

The reason we don't get to see as many best-on-best matchups in this tournament has alot to do with the format.

We may well see two Russia-Latvia games and two USA-Norway games, but it doesn't have to be like that.

Keeping the same 12 teams and placing them in two groups would give Canada more than a single powerhouse opponent (USA) in the Round-Robin.

Convince the NHL to shut down three days earlier, play five Round-Robin games from Saturday (Day 2) to Sunday (Day 10), then an 8-team Medal round that begins on Tuesday (Day 12) and concludes on Saturday (Day 16).

At 11:36 a.m., February 21, 2010, Blogger simoncurrie said...

This is the same system that screwed with Slovakia in past Olympics since Nagano.


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