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National Women's Hockey League to form and hold draft

Several websites and reports hit the Internet this morning, indicating a NWHL launch party in New York City next month and a draft to be held sometime after June 1

Meg Linehan

The Canadian Women's Hockey League finally has some healthy competition--and it looks like this new, United-States-based league will be able to pay at least some of its players.

Mike Burse at Outlook Hockey has a post with a statement from the league, revealing lots of information including the fact that the four teams will play an 18-game regular season and 2 playoff rounds.  The four teams will be the Boston Pride, the New York Riveters, the Connecticut Whale, and the Buffalo Beauts.

An American league seemed like the logical next step to "growing the game."  The CWHL had been the only professional women's league in North America for some years, since the dissolution of the "original" NWHL in 2007.  The Canadian Women's Hockey League did untold amounts of work to bring visibility to the women's game, but much of it is Canada-focused, creating a variety of complicated situations for its only American team.  Many of the CWHL's sponsors were strictly Canadian, and the Blades encountered difficulty getting traction in a saturated hockey market.  They changed "home rinks" almost every season, and the CWHL (run almost entirely by volunteers) seemed to struggle to market the team.  The Blades also seemed to have an unfair advantage, since the top Canadian players had their pick of four teams, whereas most American players needed to stay in the States if they wanted to hold day jobs (getting a Canadian work visa, in case you were wondering, is not easy).  This made the Blades flush with US Olympians and a wonderful supporting cast of depth players from the American collegiate system.  If it weren't for the unbelievable play of Charline Labonte and the defensive prowess of the Montreal Stars in the Clarkson Cup Final (plus some bounces), the championship might have been no contest.

A centralized American league makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint, since it allows US-based hockey players options that they couldn't have in the CWHL.  The more nuanced issue is that of contracts.  As you may recall, the Boston Blades went on strike and forfeited two games this past November due to contract issues with the CWHL.  According to sources I spoke to (who wish to remain anonymous), the CWHL was seeking a three-year commitment from players without pay, and American players were uncomfortable with this.  At this point, I am still unsure how the dispute was resolved to allow the Blades' season to continue.  The NWHL has indicated that they already have verbal commitments from many players.

This page was created for players to register for the draft and it shows a sensitive transparency to the work-life balance of being a women's hockey player.  Contracts can be offered in any amount as part of a $270,000 cap hit.  According to the Puck Daddy, who interviewed NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan:

The league operates as a dual-entity. Part of the business are the league operations, with income coming from sponsors; and the other side is the NWHL Foundation, a charitable wing meant for spreading women’s hockey through grassroots efforts.

So make no mistake: this is a specific US-based commitment to growing women's hockey at all levels.

The news breaking this morning was met with much skepticism from CWHL fans, who have voiced concern about the leagues competing with each other.  However, a true business model with transparency based in the United States simply makes more sense for American players (and possibly some Canadians).  Hopefully the two leagues can learn from each other about how to truly stabilize and market the women's game.  Capitalism is a cruel mistress, but to make a business plan ethical, transparency is absolutely the first step, and the NWHL is off to a good start, even with the limited information available thus far.

There will be a formal launch event on April 13 in New York City, which should shed some light on players we will expect to see in the NWHL next season.  A streaming package will be available in October for the regular season.

Looking forward to bringing you more NWHL coverage as this develops, as well as specific information about the future of the Boston Blades and Boston Pride.