With no NHL Olympic involvement but the World Juniors going ahead, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves benefitting two-fold yet as tournaments go, the Olympics still holds sway over the World Juniors.
Before analyzing why the Olympics, even in this iteration, is better than the World Juniors, it is first important to touch on how the Toronto Maple Leafs will benefit from both.
Of course, the obvious benefit to the Leafs is that they won’t lose any of their star players to the Olympics, and risk injury or a five-week quarantine period. It keeps them in the city, working out, playing competitive hockey and staying sharp in the build-up to the playoffs.
This is a point especially important for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they have an abundance of stars in their line-up, perhaps more than most other teams, who would be sending players to Beijing. Outside of Toronto, how many other teams would be sending their entire compliment of best players?
Alongside Toronto in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Reilly, how many other teams would lose their five top players to the Olympics? Perhaps Boston with the Bergeron line and McAvoy and one other – the Colorado Avalanche’s top line plus Cale Makar certainly would contend if Landeskog and Makar were healthy.
Few teams would have the potential losses, if injuries or quarantine were to occur, that the Leafs would incur.
Olympics vs World Juniors
With the World Juniors in mind, Toronto benefits from some of their top prospects still being able to play and gain important game and tournament experience. For all keen Toronto Maple Leafs fans, Topi Niemela and Roni Hirvonen are two to keep an eye out for.
Niemela finished last year’s tournament as the best defenseman and will play big minutes for Finland at 5-on-5, the powerplay and likely the penalty kill too. Hirvonen will take on a bigger role with the Finns as well, and don’t be disillusioned by his small frame.
The Leafs will also like to take a look at how Matthew Knies, their 2021 2nd round pick fares as the USA looks to defend their gold medal.
In spite of all of this however, the Olympics still has the credit in the bank to be the better tournament.
Yes, that will sound slanderous to many. The World Juniors is something of a Christmas fascination in Canada, and rightly so. It always comes at a time of the year when everyone is surrounded by family and this year’s tournament is being played in Canada so the time of the games is amenable to everyone.
There are even major young players from all teams competing. The likes of Niemela are joined by bonafide stars in the making of Owen Power and Connor Bedard as well as players like Shane Wright, Logan Cooley and Danila Yurov.
It’s a talented group of young players but after successive years of what seemed like truly elite world junior talents, these last few tournaments – although largely entertaining hockey, feel ever so slightly lackluster.
Now if you want to talk about lackluster, I will be the first to hold up the men’s hockey at the 2018 Olympics was lackluster to say the least. Undoubtedly viewership was down for that tournament compared to the 2014 version that had NHL players.
However, there is a reason that the Triple Gold Club is about winning the Stanley Cup, a World Championship Gold and an Olympic Gold. There is just a difference in level between the two, not only in the obvious, but in the meaning and significance.
The Olympics this year will lack the star power that the NHL players bring with it, but so too will the World Juniors. There are no Alexis Lafrienere or Jack Hughes type names at this tournament. Outside of diehard hockey fans, there aren’t any very well-known names that traverse the levels of hockey knowledge in the way those two, and players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Bure, Peter Forsberg, Jordan Eberle, Cole Caufield and more.
When it comes to the Olympics this year it will be the same, there will be a few well known names of players playing outside of the NHL, but most will be relative unknowns to anyone other than the diehard fans.
Then when looking at the two tournaments, side by side, there is only one winner. The World Juniors has, depending on the year, the potential to dazzle like no other yet when it is a situation like this one the Olympics still rule the roost.