Hilary Knight, Marie-Philip Poulin and their U.S. and Canadian national hockey team contemporaries now have a firm idea of where they’ll be playing in January.
The newly founded Professional Women’s Hockey League unveiled its Original Six franchises on Tuesday, with franchises based in NHL markets — three in the United States and three in Canada — with track records of supporting the women’s game.
Boston, New York City’s tri-state area and Minneapolis-St. Paul were the U.S. sites selected as homes for the yet-to-be named teams. The Canadian franchises will be based in the nation’s three largest northeastern centers of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
The PWHL also announced that each team will have a 10-day window to sign three free agents through Sept. 10, before holding a 15-round draft on Sept. 18. Teams can sign no more than 20 players to contracts before training camps open in November.
Teams will play a 24-game schedule, which is expected to overlap with the women’s world championships in April, with the playoff expected to run into June.
“Today, we look ahead to a phenomenal future for the PWHL,” said Jayna Hefford, the former player’s association leader, who has switched to the management side after being named the league’s senior vice president of hockey operations. “We’ve never seen more excitement and demand for women’s sports, and through the launch of this league, the top women’s players in the world will have the opportunity to reach even greater heights.”
The PWHL is banking on long-term stability by placing an emphasis on large population centers and media markets in a bid to gain traction in a crowded North American sports landscape, and after many of its predecessors have failed.
What’s different this time is the league bringing together many of the world’s top players, coupled with the financial backing of Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and his wife, Kimbra, and the prominence of retired tennis great Billie Jean King, who is a PWHL board member.
The marriage of talent and deep pockets was the vision the Professional Women’s Players’ Association had upon being founded four years ago following the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Walter spurred the long-awaited launch of the PWHL in June when he bought out the rival Premier Hockey Federation to clear the way for one North American professional women’s hockey league.
“Our great game has the power to captivate and connect sports fans everywhere, and we are thrilled to plant roots in six of North America’s most passionate hockey markets,” said Dodgers president and PWHL board member Stan Kasten.
The six markets have been home to women’s hockey franchises dating to at least to 2015, when the now-defunct National Women’s Hockey League was established as a four-team league. Toronto, Montreal and Boston previously had franchises dating to at least 2010 as CWHL members. Ottawa was a CWHL member from 2007-10.
And the Twin-Cities have been home to professional women’s hockey since the Whitecaps were founded in 2004 to play in the then-Western Women’s Hockey League. Minnesota also is home to numerous current and former national team players, and within driving distance of another hockey hotbed of Wisconsin.
Another priority in determining sites was selecting markets that offer large enough arenas to host games as well as dedicated training facilities for each team.
Though the PWHL is privately owned, the league is expected to partner with the NHL and its teams based in their respective markets. Commissioner Gary Bettman has been a longtime supporter of women’s hockey and said the NHL would back the sport once it has one professional league.
The PWHL said it is in the final stages of hiring general managers for each team. Among the finalists are former U.S. national women’s team captain Natalie Darwitz and former Swiss national team goalie Florence Schelling, a person with direct knowledge of the hiring process told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the hiring process is private.
And the renamed PWHL Player’s Association has a new chief, with former NHL executive Brian Burke taking over as executive director.
There is still much work to be done before training camps open, with coaching staffs to be hired and the league identifying broadcast partners.
The PWHPA in July unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2031 and features a salary range of $35,000 to $80,000 for players on active rosters. Each team is required to sign six players to three-year contracts valued at no less than $80,000.
(Story by the Canadian Press) Posted by Blaine Weyland