The U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League says it will add teams in Canada to fill a void left by the impending demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. But the women currently operating teams here say they haven’t been part of any negotiations.
Just two days after the CWHL proclaimed that it is shutting down May 1, the rival American league announced that its board has approved plans to add teams in Toronto and Montreal, to join its existing franchises in Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Connecticut and Minnesota.
“We believe that there is a business here [and] we can’t wait to continue to build our brand, our business, and the sport of professional women’s hockey,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said on a media conference call on Tuesday. “We want to make sure that players have a place to play this fall. We have approval to move on two markets, but that doesn’t mean we’re stopping there.”
In a tweet, the NWHL said: “We expect to have teams in Toronto and Montreal this upcoming season and we’ll be pursuing opportunities to work with current stakeholders and partners.”
Yet late Tuesday, teams of the soon-closing CWHL put out a joint statement that didn’t seem to mesh with the NWHL plan:
“We would like to acknowledge that we are aware that the NWHL wants to expand in Canada, adding two teams,” it read. “There are no negotiations occurring between any former CWHL teams and the NWHL.”
The NWHL said it had no prior knowledge that the CWHL would announce on Sunday morning that it is shutting down because its non-profit business model was not sustainable. The CWHL had teams in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Markham, Worchester, Mass., and one in China.
The sudden decision after 12 seasons shocked its teams and their players, along with the hockey community across North America. It was a leading competitive vehicle for the world’s best women between Olympics and world championships.
Tuesday’s statement from former CWHL players and teams stressed that the united voice of the CWHL players is critical, and that with 28 players currently in Finland for the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships from April 4 to 14, they will discuss options together after all players are home to North America. They want to stand as one.
Liz Knox, a Markham Thunder goaltender and a leader of the CWHL Players Association, says players from Team Canada and Team USA actually had a meeting of solidarity in Finland. Even though the players will be heated rivals at the world championships in mere days, they met there this week to discuss their feelings about the closing of the CWHL.
“This NWHL plans looks very quick to me, and I’m very confused by it. Yes, our league has collapsed, but our coaches, players and managers, we’re all still here and we still believe in our product. So I’m baffled by this announcement," Knox said. “Wouldn’t a better strategy be to actually approach the women’s pro teams in those markets first with a well-thought-out plan, and acquire some buy-in from those cities before you announce you’re dropping teams in them?”
Rylan, the NWHL commissioner, said she met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week, and that the NHL agreed to increase its financial contribution to the NWHL "significantly.”
The NHL confirmed to The Globe and Mail that it had contributed $50,000 each in sponsorship to the two leagues this past season, and now instead of splitting that, the entire $100,000 will go to the NWHL.
ESPN reported that Rylan expects player salaries to increase next season. The NWHL had a salary cap of $100,000 last season, with the lowest-paid player making $2,500.
The NWHL, which was formed four years ago, said it plans to expand its regular-season from 16 games to 24 games for the 2019-20 season, which starts in October.
Knox said that if she was asked right now to play for one of these expansion NWHL teams “it would be a definite no at this time for me. I know many others feel the same right now."
“Adding teams in Toronto and Montreal just like that, this seems so quickly thrown together, where is all the information, the ownership the infrastructure?” Knox said. “For a group of women who have just been through what we’ve been through, a hastily planned idea doesn’t sound so good to us right now.”