The sport of baseball was blessed with an all-time moment on Tuesday night that only filled NHL fans with jealousy. The World Baseball Classic presented the opportunity for Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, two of the best to ever play the game, to faceoff in the most pivotal of moments with the names of their home countries across the front of their chests.
With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, the two-way phenom Ohtani was able to strike out his MLB teammate Trout to clinch the WBC title for Japan over the USA 3-2. It was a moment that will be remembered for a long time. Two of the game’s best, going head to head, representing their countries on baseball’s biggest international stage.
— World Baseball Classic (@WBCBaseball) March 22, 2023
Fans of hockey can only dream about a matchup of that caliber. Not because there aren’t superstar talents available, but because the opportunity for the NHL’s best players to play in a so-called best-on-best international tournament hasn’t been presented to them since the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
LA Kings head coach Todd McLellan was one of the many millions who bore witness to one of the greatest matchups in baseball history, albeit via replay but found it just as thrilling as the rest of us. “The Shohei and Trout showdown at the end, I didn’t watch it but I watched it after. It was pretty exciting.”
McLellan isn’t a stranger to coaching in the international hockey ranks. He was the head coach for Team Canada at the 2015 World Championships leading them to a gold medal. And also coached perhaps the most electrifying team ever assembled in Team North America at the 2016 World Cup.
“I think it’s really good for the game,” said McLellan after practice Wednesday when asked about the possibility of NHL players playing in a tournament representing their countries.
“Being part of that the World Championships are a really unique event. The problem with the World Championships is there are so many good players that aren’t available to their teams. I’ve experienced that. It was unreal. And I would love to do it again. But the Team North America experience in late August, early September was perhaps one of the best international ones. A little bit different. Felt really unique for me, because I was with that team, they’re all the superstars in the league right now. And that team was pretty good there. Would I like to see it personally? Yes, I would.”
Connor McDavid, one of the players McLellan coached on that North America team in 2016 was also given the chance to speak about the opportunity to finally play for Team Canada during his post-practice presser on Wednesday and he didn’t hold back.
"It's what we've been asking for in hockey for a long time, right? Best-on-best… 'Did you see Ohtani vs Trout?' That's what hockey's been missing for almost a decade now."
Connor McDavid wants to see the NHL do best-on-best. 👏 pic.twitter.com/sSidLA1EbV
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) March 22, 2023
Risks involving the NHL
So what’s keeping the NHL from moving forward with a tournament of this caliber? Well, simply put, injuries. It would be a damn shame if a player like McDavid, Matthews, or MacKinnon got hurt during a tournament that doesn’t involve the Oilers, Maple Leafs, or Avalanche. And Todd McLellan understands that.
“What does it come with some risks, losing the best players playing? And if one or two guys get hurt, it can really throw a season off. But that can also happen during training camps and exhibition games. So there’s always risk before coaching a team like that.”
Those are some pretty big risks. But with the NHL going on seven years now since they were involved in any sort of best-on-best situation, I’m sure the fans and the players themselves would be ok with them.