Wanted: a high-profile, media-savvy business leader to serve as commissioner of a revamped National Women's Hockey League that has suspended operations for a year.
Finding a full-time commissioner to lead the eastern-based league is the first step that a group of owners are taking to revise a chaotic division with few rules and no financial rewards.
Recently, the owners of Ontario and Quebec teams voted to suspend operations for the 2007-08 season in order to reorganize the league. That decision has left Olympic or world championship players such as Jennifer Botterill, Kelly Béchard, Cheryl Pounder, Sami-Jo Small (Mississauga Aeros), Cathy Chartrand, Kim St. Pierre (Montreal Axion), U.S. team captain Krissy Wendell (Etobicoke Dolphins) and Jayna Hefford and Vicky Sunohara (Brampton Thunder) without a place to play next season.
"We were a little bit surprised when we got an email on the Friday of the long weekend, letting us know [about the suspension of the league]" Botterill said Friday.
Some of the eastern players are scrambling to find ways to keep the teams afloat themselves for the 2007-08 season. With import restrictions (six players), the Western Women's Hockey League has limited ability to accommodate the eastern players.
However, the eastern owners say that if they don't take a year off to reorganize, the league will not survive at all.
Dom Serafino, chairman for the group of NWHL owners, says teams are each losing from $100,000 to $150,000 a year and are frustrated by a lack of structure.
Serafino said the owners want to turn the NWHL into a league with clear guidelines for salary caps, age restrictions and a draft system. Currently, rookies can join any team they want, and some teams have an imbalance of good players. Some players get paid, others are paid a housing allowance, while some players pay fees to compete while working at other jobs.
In the Western League, the Calgary Oval Xtreme has a least seven Olympic players on its roster, and resources that are the envy of the country.
"This year is an example of how dysfunctional the league was, said Mario Forgione, owner of the Mississauga Aeros who is a former owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga Ice Dogs. "This is the only league I know of that doesn't have a structure."
Revenues are slim to none. Forgione said there are no crowds at games. Perhaps as many as 100 people show up.
Securing consistent ice time for games is also a problem because some teams are often bumped by other organizations, says Serafino. He remembers an Etobicoke Dolphins game being delayed for 11/2 hours this season because a ringette game that preceded it went into overtime.
"Basically, the league almost played second fiddle to everything," he said.
Without a consistent schedule, it's impossible to draw a fan base, Serafino said. He thinks games should be played on weekends. These could easily be televised on a cable channel.
Also, if team owners could get together and pool their resources, they could also offer a truly national league that would be more attractive to major sponsors.
The Edmonton Chimos are one of six teams in the Western Women's Hockey League that broke away from the NWHL years ago.
"There were too many side issues going on and not enough focus on the growth of the game for the good of the game," said Dee Bateman, owner of two retail businesses that finance the Chimos annually to the tune of $100,000.
Bill Espey, president of the WWHL, says it's not a good scenario to lose the eastern league.
"We need and we want the east," he said. "We're doing all we can to support and help them and get the league up."
Despite suspending play for a year, the eastern owners don't want to scuttle the women's game.
"We believe it's a very viable league and that it's a very unique property," Serafino said. "It's just a matter of executing it. I'm very encouraged by what I'm seeing. People are committed to make this work."
Botterill said a group of players from across the league held a meeting this week to explore ways of keeping the NWHL alive for the 2007-08 season.
"Everyone is trying to be very proactive to see if there's a solution,'' said Botterill. "I think people [players]are not in panic mode yet. We realize things need to be done and there's a lot of work to do. But I think people are hopeful that something can be worked out so that ultimately we have a place to play next year.''