Q: Why have you chosen this particular ranking system?

Any attempt at a ranking of this sort is bound to entail certain flaws, fail to take account of some factor or extenuation, and otherwise remain controversial for one reason or another. By the very nature of such an endeavour even the most detailed and complicated ranking systems can only ever hope to approach varying degrees of imperfection. With that in mind, this site has chosen to favour a more "user-friendly" system that is both easy to calculate and follow, while still producing what we feel are reasonably accurate results when spread over the course of time.

Given that "Top Level" hockey competition was developed from, and has thus far remained within the confines of a tournament structure, it seemed appropriate that the rankings should be based on tournament results. As stated on the front page, since tournament competitions "place greatest emphasis on final standings (as opposed to individual wins, losses, and scores), ranking points have been derived accordingly." In other words, the object of any tournament is to win the tournament, regardless of whether you end up winning with a final record of 4-3, 5-2, or 6-0 (as is quite possible within the same tournament, such as the recent Winter Olympics). It is for this reason that a game-by-game ranking system was rejected as it would not take into account the level of importance placed on certain games by certain teams (i.e. preliminary round vs. play-off round, gold medal game vs. bronze medal game, etc.) - or even the possibility of "strategic losses" to secure more favourable match-ups - that is, at least, not without greatly over-complicating the resultant ranking formula. Predictive ranking systems, such as the popular "Elo rating," which awards points based on the previous results/rankings of the competitors involved were also rejected - not only due to the complex math involved, but also because Top Level competitions generally occur only once every four years, or so, and using such a system would be inherently problematic considering the amount of turnover among rosters, as well as the differing stages of any returning players' careers over such a span. While this system may be effective for competition among individuals, such as chess, or among teams which play together on a more regular basis, in this case it was felt that it would be best to start each ranking cycle with a clean slate.

From here, a basic inverted point system based on final tournament standings seemed to strike the right ballance of simplicity and effectiveness for the purposes of this site (with the championship bonus point being added to allow teams to climb the rankings faster, if only slightly so, through extraordinary achievement). Of course, this system is certainly not perfect, and can produce some strange results. For example, because of the number of teams involved, Kazakhstan earned the same amount of points (7) for finishing 8th in the 14-team 1998 Olympics as Canada and the USSR earned for winning the 6-team Canada Cup tournaments. It may seem somewhat unjust to award more points to a lower placing team in an arguably more diluted tournament - and, in some ways, it is. However, placing greater emphasis on tournaments with a larger number of competitors is not entirely unjustified either. While each game in a smaller tournament of only high-ranking teams might arguably be more hard-fought, from the perspective of probability it would not actually be any harder to win the tournament. Rather, a tournament with more teams naturally makes for a tournament with more variables, and more opportunities for strange things to happen. Put another way, in a small tournament of relatively equally-matched "top" teams, a "top" team will obviously end up winning, no matter what. However, in a larger tournament, with a few "lower" teams thrown in, a "top" team will still be favoured to win, but now there is the possibility that a "lower" team might win instead - or, at least, take out a few "top" teams along the way. All that aside, though, what one should keep in mind above all else is not the number of points being awarded, but how those points effect a team's standing in relation to the other teams in the overall rankings. Gaining 7 points in the Olympics against a previous Canada Cup result is not particularly helpful when those Canada Cup participants are now also gaining 11, 12, and 13 points in the same Olympic Games. What is important is that the relative acquisition of points within tournaments eventually tends to override any disparity in available points between tournaments over time. So far we have found this to be the case, and feel that the results speak for themselves.

All that being said, we still make no claim to being an authority, or having the final word as to who truly is the all-time "Best of the Best," as it were. That is a debate which is likely to go on until the end of time, no matter what arguments are made or which measures are used.

Q: Why are the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Games included?

It is important to note that the NHL refused to allow their players to compete during the preliminary rounds of both the 1998 and 2002 Olympics due to scheduling conflicts. As a result it can be argued that certain countries (specifically Slovakia and Germany which both had significant NHL players available at this time) were not fairly allowed to field what they may have deemed to be their "best possible teams." However, considering the fact that these were preliminary matches for lower ranked nations, and based on the results of previous and subsequent Top Level tournaments, it is reasonable to assume that the final placings of these teams would not have differed greatly regardless. Of course, this is only an assumption and anything could have happened (Slovakia, in fact, went on to win the 2002 World Championship). Still, the same complaint could be made by teams missing top players due to injury or other factors (which is often the case in any tournament). We feel the important distinction is whether the vast majority of teams are competing with the vast majority of their top players. On the whole then - while perhaps not completely fair - it was judged unnecessary to discount these tournaments only because one or two countries may, or may not, have gained one or two points in the overall rankings.

Q: Why are the 2005 World Championships not included?

As the IIHF World Championship is held during the NHL playoffs many, if not most, of the world's top players are usually unable (and often unwilling) to participate, thus making for a "World Championship" in name only. The NHL Lockout of 2004-2005, however, presented a unique opportunity for all of the world's best players to finally compete in this tournament. Unfortunately, it seems the lack of NHL hockey being played may have also caused a lack of interest in any other hockey among many NHLers at the time. Add to this the already low priority that many players (specifically from North America) placed on this tournament and the resulting rosters were, in the end, not much better than those for any other World Championship (for example, only 3 of the top 10 reigning NHL scoring leaders participated). The 2005 World Championships also had the misfortune of falling right between two other Top Level tournaments: the 2004 World Cup (held only 7 months before) and the 2006 Olympic Games (held 10 months later) making it, at least to some observers, all the more irrelevant.

That being said, there is still a case to be made that declining to play is not the same as being prevented from playing, and that the results of this tournament should count nonetheless. With that in mind, below are the final standings from the 2005 World Championships, along with the resulting TLH points, to be applied as the reader sees fit:

1. Czech Republic (16+1) / 2. Canada (15) / 3. Russia (14) / 4. Sweden (13) / 5. Slovakia (12) / 6. USA (11) / 7. Finland (10) / 8. Switzerland (9) / 9. Latvia (8) / 10. Belarus (7) / 11. Ukraine (6) / 12. Kazakhstan (5) / 13. Slovenia (4) / 14. Denmark (3) / 15. Germany (2) / 16. Austria (1)

Q: Why is the 2016 World Cup not included?

While ostensibly marketed as a traditional Best-on-Best tournament, the inclusions of "Team Europe" (a side composed of players from various European countries not qualified/invited to participate in the tournament) and "Team North America" (a side composed of players from Canada and USA, aged 23 years and younger, added to balance the inclusion of "Team Europe") greatly complicates this claim of the newly resurrected World Cup of Hockey. As neither side represents an actual country, both teams venture squarely into all-star/exhibition territory, with "Team North America" additionally violating the primary TLH commandment that all countries be "fairly allowed to field what they deem to be their best possible teams" (regardless of how many of these "young stars" may have actually been selected to their respective "senior teams", were they eligible).

Of course, exceptions have been made in the rankings for similarly questionable tournaments (see above). In this case, however, making an exception would pose certain problems to the ranking system itself, requiring one of the following unsatisfactory solutions: [1] Adding these "all-star" teams to the rankings as new and separate "countries" even though it was stated from the outset by tournament organizers that these were merely transitional filler teams created to address the lack of a proper tournament qualifying process, thus leaving their future continuation/relevance to the tournament, and these rankings, tenuous at best; [2] Splitting the points among these teams' composite nations which would both result in awarding unwieldy fractional points while not necessarily reflecting the true contribution of each nation in gaining said points (if such a thing could even be accurately measured); [3] Ignoring these teams in the rankings altogether which would allow the other teams to gain points at the expense of countries who were still partially participating in the very same tournament. None of these solutions in our estimation seem either fair or appropriate, therefor it was decided not to include this tournament in the overall rankings. Nevertheless, as with the previous answer, the final standings and TLH points from the 2016 World Cup will be provided below for any who may still disagree with our judgement...

1. Canada (8+1) / 2. Team Europe (7) / 3. Sweden (6) / 4. Russia (5) / 5. Team North America (4) / 6. Czech Republic (3) / 7. USA (2) / 8. Finland (1)

Q: Why are the records of the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and West Germany not combined with those of Russia, The Czech Republic, and Germany?

Originally TLH did combine these nations just as the IIHF currently does. However, it was eventually decided that this was a somewhat unjust practice. Whereas the West German team transitioned rather seamlessly into Germany, the cases of the USSR and Czechoslovakia are not so clear cut. It is true that the Soviets were always a mostly Russian team, but many players from other republics (notably Kazakhstan and Latvia) also bolstered their ranks over the years. Meanwhile, numerous players of both Czech and Slovak descent represented the CSSR/CSFR, making it difficult for either nation to claim a monopoly over their shared history. Perhaps more importantly, though (or simply more to the point), when a nation significantly alters its own name, borders, and population, should it not then be seen as a new and different country? Is that not its own wish? For the sake of consistency, if nothing else, TLH must assume that it is. Nevertheless, players from one country or another have always played for other teams. The great Slovak Peter Stastny, in fact, played for Canada in the 1984 Canada Cup, while Canadian hall-of-famers Tony Esposito and Bryan Trottier played for the USA in other tournaments. A Helmut Balderis, or Boris Alexandrov, on the other hand, did not have the choice to represent their own lands at a time when their lands did not officially exist. Whatever your views on this issue may be, then, the points are still availble, as with the previous answers, to be applied (or re-applied) as the reader sees fit.

Q: Why are Japan and Italy included in the rankings?

It is true that, as Olympic Hosts in 1998 and 2006 respectively, Japan and Italy gained automatic entry into the ice hockey tournaments for those years without the need to qualify and may thus be regarded by some as not truly "Top Level" nations. In the case of Japan it should be noted that although they did not need to qualify in 1998 they actually did enter into the pre-qualification round anyway, finishing second in Group D. Italy, on the other hand, had already qualified for a previous Top Level tournament (the 1998 Olympics, in fact) but were ranked well below the 12th qualification spot by the time of the 2006 games and did not enter into pre-qualifications. However, the fact that both Japan and Italy managed to finish ahead of at least one qualified team in the final standings of their respective tournaments demonstrates that they were indeed worthy competitors at the time and have therefore been included. It should also be remembered that none of the Canada Cups required any qualification whatsoever as they were solely invitational tournaments (though few would argue that any undeserved teams were invited, nor any top teams left out).

If you have any further questions, or notice any errors/discrepancies on this site, please feel free to contact us here:
evcco [at] outlook [dot] com