Easy Fix for Next Year's World Championship Groups

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 15: Jukka Jalonen has guided Finland's national team to the top of the hockey world. The IIHF might as well acknowledge this for next year by making them the #1 seed. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The fact that there are two countries involved in the hosting duties of next year's World Championships means that not only are they going to reduce the number of groups from four to two for logistical reasons, but how they split up the teams will have to be changed as well.  From the IIHF:

The two groups of eight teams for the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Helsinki (Finland) and Stockholm (Sweden), along with the schedule, will be determined shortly upon consultation with the involved parties and participants.

Due to logistical and scheduling reasons, the composition of the two groups may not necessarily follow the predetermined order from the 2011 IIHF World Ranking.

The reasoning for this is simple:  currently Finland is ranked 2nd in the world, followed by Sweden at 3rd, meaning they'd ordinarily be put in the same group.  The organizers of the tournament want Sweden to play before crowds in Stockholm, while Finland plays at home in Helsinki.  So, how do they fix this?  Do they just make a simple switch to the order and pretend like Finland is #1 and Russia is #2?  

Well, the simple answer is this:  they can organize the elite men's (and women's) tournaments the same way they do every other tournament the IIHF runs.

For some reason, perhaps to legitimize the World Ranking system, the IIHF has been splitting up the groups in the Championship Division of the World Championships since the ranking's introduction in 2003.  For the groups of 4, the teams were seeded 1-16 based on their current World Ranking, and the groups were split as follows:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
1 2 3 4
8 7 6 5
9 10 11 12
16 15 14 13

That system meant that even when there was a freak occurence, like a team that had been consistently good having a bad year (like the USA finishing 13th in 2010), they would be placed closer to their 'true' strength, the longer term view that the World Ranking provides (6th).  

Now that the format has been changed, the groups would be divided like this:

Group A Group B
Russia (1) Finland (2)
Canada (4) Sweden (3)
Czech Republic (5) USA (6)
Germany (8) Switzerland (7)
Norway (9) Slovakia (10)
Latvia (12) Belarus (11)
Denmark (13) France (14)
Italy (17) Kazakhstan (16)

OK, so because of this idea of having co-hosts the next two years for the World Championships is cramping the IIHF's style, here's the easy fix, at least for next year:  Have the teams ranked by where they finished last year.  This is how they organize the groups for the World Juniors, U18s, Women's World U18s, and get this...  every men's and women's competition below the elite level.  In a lot of ways, your World Ranking doesn't matter for countries below the elite...  even though in many ways their rankings are far more accurate than the top groups, because they don't have to worry about North American leagues making some of their best talent available for them for the championships...  because they have none (or maybe one or two) to worry about.  If you finished 24th last year, you come in to next year's tournament as the 24th seed.  It's a simple concept, and it would work for next year's World Championship in Helsinki and Stockholm quite beautifully:

Group A (Helsinki) Group B (Stockholm)
Finland (1) Sweden (2)
Russia (4) Czech Republic (3)
Canada (5) Norway (6)
USA (8) Germany (7)
Switzerland (9) Slovakia (10)
France (12) Denmark (11)
Latvia (13) Belarus (14)
Italy (17) Kazakhstan (16)

Yeah, the Helsinki group definitely looks tougher than the Stockholm group, I'll grant you that.  However, there are some advantages to this setup:  both Norway and Denmark being put in the Stockholm group is easier on these two neighbours of Sweden for travel purposes.  Putting Latvia in the Helsinki group makes sense in this light, as well.  And by having a bit of an advantage for the Helsinki group, it makes it easier for the major broadcasters to focus on the tournament.  Besides, Germany, Norway and Slovakia are currently in a battle for the final two Olympic qualification spots, and having them all in the same group provides a nice side story for the tournament.  

If the IIHF insists on using its World Ranking system for this, then I suppose they could use next year's "Pre-Championship" World Ranking system, which the IIHF releases before the start of every tournament.  That would yield the following groups:

Group A (Helsinki) Group B (Stockholm)
Finland (1) Sweden (2)
Czech Republic (4) Russia (3)
Canada (5) USA (6)
Germany (8) Switzerland (7)
Norway (9) Slovakia (10)
Denmark (12) Belarus (11)
Latvia (13) France (14)
Italy (17) Kazakhstan (16)

Those are acceptable divisions, I think most would agree.  I just don't quite get why there is one system for the top level of the Men's and Women's Championships and then a completely different one for everything else.

We'll find out soon enough:  the hosts will want to start printing tickets, especially hot on the heels of this past year's Final.  

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