Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The World Junior Tournament doesn’t really need fixing, but here’s one idea how to fix it

I think this year the World Juniors have fallen victim to being the only game in town and having an audience that wants the most exciting hockey they’ve ever seen at time when we’re feeling deprived.

The issue with the tournament seems entirely focused around the blowout victories, and lopsided matchups that go along with having teams like Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and for that matter Slovakia in the mix with the bigger six of Canada, United States, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland. Outcomes seem predetermined for half the games in the tournament, but it’s always been that way. The run up scores are the result of goal differential playing a role in playoff seeding, and seeding for future tournaments. It’s always made sense, it’s always been accepted, and it was something viewers previously either enjoyed or would simply change the channel on.

Of course this is 2020, and we’re going to react poorly to everything we can, and the simple joys of watching 20 year old Austrians get pounded into the earth invokes more criticism.

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Fair enough.

That is ignoring that the Austrians want to be there. They want to play the best of the best, and this is a development opportunity and chance to grow the game. There is obviously a bit of an entertainment deficit from this, but ultimately it’s good for the sport. It doesn’t really need to be fixed, and really this is won’t be an issue once Canada has less of a powerhouse team, and the wins against these teams matter a little more.

Let’s fix it anyway

I’ve seen a lot of comments about reducing the tournament to six teams. That seems less than ideal as it leaves poor Slovakia out in the cold, and ignores what appears to be the steady rise of German hockey talent. It also removes the opportunity for other growing nations to get their exposure to the tournament. Denmark, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Norway have all had brief moments of being close to where Germany is today and it would be a shame to permanently remove them from consideration.

No, the reality is the tournament needs to be bigger, but have more competitive a more competitive Round Robin tournament.

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I give you the 12 team, 2 division model.

Division A Division B
Canada Slovakia
Russian Germany
Sweden Austria
Finland Belarus
Czech Republic Switzerland
United States Denmark

In this model teams continue to play round robin games against their own division. The top four teams advance to the playoffs, with a cross division 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 matchup in the first round. This likely produces four Division A wins, but gives Division B teams that earned it the opportunity to face top tournament competition, and perhaps pull off an upset.

As for the six seed of Division A, well, they slide to Division B for the following year, and top round robin team from Division B moves up. For the bottom two teams of Division B, they play an additional tournament against the unlisted hockey nations like Kazakhstan, Norway, Slovenia, etc. to see if they retain their tournament standing and give others an opportunity to move up.

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This approach gives you a jam packed TSN 1 schedule of Division A games, and a lackluster lineup of Division B games they can throw on their other channels that are watched exclusively by prospect nerds and people who have 23 and me’d their origins back to one of the nations playing.

I’m certainly not saying that my approach is perfect either, but it gives even more countries a chance to play instead of fewer, and increases the number of competitive games. Heck you can even have a couple of pre tournament cross divisional matchups. And, of course, Canada gets it’s New Years Eve matchup against the United States as a regular occurrence.

All that said, the tournament isn’t really broken, and if it stays the way it is, there is no doubt it will still have a strong audience. Just a vocal cohort of the media complaining that they have to watch a blowout hockey game for their work.

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