For a lot of hockey fans, the IIHF World Championships is a secondary tournament, a semi-best-on-best that puts together second-tier players from non-playoff teams in a tournament played in another timezone. Sure, you might read the box score or catch some highlights online, but it's not the make-or-break vibe you get with the Olympics. Players don't exactly treat it as a priority either, as many invites get sent out to star players after playoff elimination and quite a few decline.
While the casual hockey fan may view the World Championships as, well, not really a world championship, the fact of the matter is that the IIHF does. And if you care about how your country does at the Olympics, the World Championships deserve some attention as well. It's not because the caliber of play is on the same level of the Olympics -- with so many star players involved with the Stanley Cup playoffs, it's impossible to meet the blistering pace and skill level we saw at the 2010 Vancouver games. However, here's the kicker: IIHF rankings determine seeding for all tournaments, from World Championships to Olympics, and the rankings are calculated this way (emphasis by me):
The IIHF World Ranking is based on awarding points for the final positions in the last four IIHF World Championships and in the last Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament. The 2007 IIHF World Ranking is thus based on the performance at the 2007, 2006, 2005, and the 2004 World Championship and at the 2006 Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament in Turin.
The team that wins the IIHF World Championship gold medal or the Olympic gold medal receives 1200 points. In general, there is a 20-point interval between two ranked positions (for example, 880 points for the 13th place and 860 points for the 14th place).
To enable the ranking to accurately reflect current form, the greatest importance is given to results of the last year's competition. To a lesser degree, attention is also paid to results from previous years. The system uses a four-year cycle as the points earned in one year decline linearly within the next 3 years and in the 5th year results are dropped from the calculation altogether.
Example: Value of the gold medal
Year 1: 100% value -- 1200 points
Year 2: 75% value -- 900 points
Year 3: 50% value -- 600 points
Year 4: 25% value -- 300 points
Year 5: 0% value -- 0 points
That's right, the IIHF views the World Championships and Olympics equally. That's why Team USA's disastrous performance at the World Championships will hurt them in the standings as much as their Vancouver silver medal helped them. All of this accumulates, and when the Sochi Olympics come around, team seedings will be affected by the Vancouver games and the subsequent World Championships. In fact, you can see by the sliding scale that by the time 2014 comes around, the 2010 Olympis will have a fraction of its original value.
So while it's easy for fans to shrug off a disappointing performance at the World Championships with the excuse that Player X or Player Y weren't there, the bottom line is that the IIHF sees all of these international tournaments equally. Thus, if you want your team to have the best chance at the next Olympics, it's worth your time to check in and see how they're doing.
For more on international hockey, please visit Puck Worlds, SBN's fantastic new international hockey blog.