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The NHL returns to international competition and how that affects the Maple Leafs

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Photo credit:© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
18 days ago
After a long time away from the Olympics or even the World Cup of Hockey, the NHL is finally giving us … The Four Nations Face-Off.
Your first question might be “what the hell is that?” and what it is might seemed pretty watered down. Canada, the US, Sweden, and Finland will all be represented in a tournament between the four countries next season and the good news is that it replaces the All-Star game. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly enthusiastically endorsed this tournament with a “it’s better than nothing” level of excitement and we’ll see if that translates.
The good news beyond that is the NHL has committed to involvement in both the 2026 Olympics and the 2030 Olympics. That gets us back to a true best on best international hockey tournament that might have the caveat about whether or not Russians are participating. Still if it’s the best on best minus the country that is invading a sovereign nation, that’s probably as good as it gets for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, the NHL is bringing back the World Cup of Hockey in the split years between the Olympics, so 2028 and 2032 will also have tournaments, although hopefully without the clunky and unfortunate Team Europe and Team North American Kids approach.
Most importantly…

How does this affect the Leafs?

At least for next season there is a good chance we see Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly on Team Canada. Team USA is probably going to take a chance on that Auston Matthews kid, and William Nylander will have his shot at his continued strong international play for Team Sweden. There’s also a good chance that Calle Jarnkrok could join him.
Other Leafs could also get a look, but those are definitely the locks and would probably be the locks for Maple Leafs participating in the 2026 Olympics as well (assuming Marner is still a Leaf.)
Matthew Knies might be someone who could establish himself as a candidate to return to the Olympics and Timothy Liljegren could be ready for Team Sweden in a couple of years.
As much as the Leafs are in Canada and are more or less Canada’s team, there will definitely be an interest in seeing someone like Matthews get to play a lead role on Team USA.
While I’m not completely sold on the Four Nation Face-Off or the World Cup of Hockey, Olympic Hockey has been something special in the past and it will be great for the sport.

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