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Women’s Hockey Wednesday: NWHL creeps forward, SDHL makes a splash

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Let’s all move to Sweden.

Boston Pride forward Denisa Krizova and Minnesota Whitecaps forward Emma Stauber during a game in Boston, MA on March 02, 2019.
Denisa Křížová, seen here playing for the NWHL’s Boston Pride last season, has signed with the SDHL for 2019-20.
Michelle Jay @michelle_jay3

Story of the week

Beyond The Slow Growth Model
In a press release distributed via LinkedIn on May 23, the NWHLPA announced that it had reached an agreement with the league on a form contract that “includes significant improvements to player benefits.”

Many people who have witnessed Annie and I in the midst of preparing WHW can attest that it makes both of us very cranky. Putting together today’s edition was extra specially annoying.

The NWHL made some announcements over the past two weeks. Unlike in previous years where this would have mostly been noticed by the regulars covering women’s hockey and no one else, the current state of women’s hockey means that the NWHL is getting coverage every time they sneeze. NWHL agrees to increase salaries, benefits, revenue sharing touted the Associated Press, and the news was picked up by all the major mainstream media outlets. NWHL cancels expansion plans was another headline.

I’m a regular listener to the Steve Dangle Podcast, a Leafs-focused hockey podcast that goes out twice a week. Steve was tapped to do some coverage of Media Day prior to game one of the NBA Finals, an area that is not quite Steve’s lane. He talked about how, in the insane media scrums of an event like this one, it’s important for the mainstream media to let the reporters who cover the NBA on a regular basis ask the majority of the questions, so that the players aren’t subjected to too many annoying questions.

There are very few people who write for mainstream outlets who cover women’s hockey on a regular basis, and at times like this, it shows. The NWHL can pretend all it wants that it had the money and resources ready to go for expansion into Canada. I don’t believe a word of it, and I never did. The NWHL saw an opportunity for publicity and went for it. The mainstream media ate it up.

Meanwhile, the latest NWHL contract is, as is very clearly laid out by Kirsten Whelan of the Victory Press, an incremental improvement over the previous contract. It doesn’t deserve wild accolades and it’s eons away from anything even as minor league as an ECHL contract. The aforementioned SDP recently referred to players on an ECHL-only contract as the real people who play “for the love of the game”. No one in North American women’s hockey gets anything near the salary or benefits of an ECHL player.

From Kirsten’s excellent article that you should all read:

Percentages are nice, but they don’t have much material impact. Citing a 50% increase to the salary cap looks good, but it comes out to an average increase of less than $3,000 per player, and with the expanded schedule, the average per-game salary remains equal to last year’s -- an increase of zero percent. An improvement of 60% sounds big, but $1,500 is hardly a life-changing amount, and for many, the minimum salary remains lower than the cost of playing. The 25% increase to the per diem amounts to five dollars.

Further:

If a player chooses to terminate her contract, she will not be able to sign in any other professional league in North America until September 28, 2020. In practice, this clause would aim to prevent 2019-20 NWHL players from participating fully in the free agency period for a new league, should one be established. In theory, the NWHL could exercise the option on every single player who signs a 2019-20 contract in an attempt to force them to remain in the league.

When the CWHL tried similar tactics when rumours of the NWHL first started swirling, the American women’s hockey fans (and the women’s hockey players) rightly made a hell of a lot of noise about it. It’s funny that some of these same people are going around defending the NWHL.

Four years on, only some equipment expenses are covered. More pressing, though, the league does not offer medical insurance. Despite being uninsured by the league itself, NWHL players are contractually required to provide proof of “major medical insurance coverage that is in full force and effect” and to maintain such coverage throughout the duration of their contract. For those without a sufficient policy in place, taking one out can involve annual premium costs as high as their total salary.

So basically, we’ve got professional women’s hockey players who are once again paying to play, and somehow I’m supposed to believe that it will negatively affect the hockey careers of women’s hockey players if they take a year off in an effort to find a better way.

A “career” can mean a few things. It can mean “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life”, which sounds terribly noble. But the meaning that the members of the PWHPA are striving for is “a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling”. By the second definition, in the current state of professional women’s hockey, no one has actually made a career out of playing women’s hockey. Even if the members of the PWHPA all joined the NWHL tomorrow, the NWHL isn’t going to be in a position change that any time soon.


While the NWHL is making incremental gains over in Sweden the SDHL made history this week when it announced that they have signed a six year deal with a production company to broadcast all 200 games played each season. While an actual broadcast partner has yet to be announced, and the financial impact is uncertain, this is exactly the sort of major step forward in visibility that could change the face of women’s hockey around the world. Visibility leads to more sponsors and more fans, and this season the SDHL is set to put on an excellent show for anyone who wants to watch. The league is attracting not only its usual crop of elite European talent, but more former CWHL and NWHL players and higher-level Canadian and US rookies than ever before.

NWHL

2019-2020 NWHL Signing Tracker - The Ice Garden
So far the Boston Pride lead the way, while the Buffalo Beauts are the only team yet to sign a player.

NWHL agrees to increase salaries, benefits, revenue sharing | SI.com
The NWHL is increasing salaries, offering a 50-50 split of sponsor-related revenues and improved benefits in an agreement reached with its players’ association.

NWHL expansion plans in jeopardy, open to talks about “passing the torch” - The Ice Garden
”We fight for progress. We strive to evolve. We’ll always do what’s best for the game.”

Buffalo Beauts name Mandy Cronin GM for 2019-20 season - Die By The Blade
Pioneering professional becomes team’s fifth general manager

Kaleigh Fratkin on the #ForTheGame movement, the PWHPA, and her decision to return to the NWHL - The Ice Garden

SDHL

Why the SDHL TV deal matters - The Ice Garden
Swedish women’s hockey is making broadcast history

Clear: Record big TV bet on women’s hockey | Aftonbladet
Swedish women’s hockey writes history. From the next season, all matches will be broadcast - as the first ladies in the world.

SDHL: Czech national team duo to Brynäs | Aftonbladet
Two-thirds of the Czech Republic’s first line at the World Championships has signed with Brynäs IF.

Maja Nylén Persson signs with Brynäs IF - The Ice Garden
A new club for the blue line phenomenon.

Jennifer Wakefield ready for Djurgården | Aftonbladet
Djurgården is investing transatlantically in the autumn. On Tuesday, the club presented Canadian star Jennifer Wakefield - and also her countryman Allie Munroe.

For the Game / PWHPA

With future of women’s hockey uncertain, athletes launch Players Association amid boycott – ThinkProgress
“It has been a work-in-progress,” former NWHL goalie Kimberly Sass told ThinkProgress. “The players in general have been trying to seek out a way to create our ideal vision of a viable, sustainable pro league, for, I would say over a year now.”

Newly formed women’s hockey union wants to find a way to play | CBC Sports
It has been about a month since 200 of the best female hockey players in the world decided they no longer wanted to play. Liz Knox knew there was risk of walking away after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded, but says the fight to create an economically viable professional league is a worthy one.

“This is the right thing to do:” Annie Bélanger is #ForTheGame - The Ice Garden
Former Inferno goaltender talks about her decision, PWHPA.

Women’s Hockey: What’s a Union? (plus, a note on our coverage)
Here is a rundown of how unions and labor organizations work in the US (in the simplest possible terms) and what the current labor organizations are like in women’s hockey and other sports organizations.

Women’s hockey has avid fans but needs a corporate cash infusion
Corporate brands have a potentially lucrative opportunity with women’s hockey. All they need to do is have a little imagination and take a chance on long-term potential.

Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser -- Women’s players must stand up for what they want
As the 40-year-old Canadian legend entered the IIHF Hall of Fame, she discussed the CWHL dissolution, how the NWHL is holding hockey back and what a WNHL could look like.

Can the W.N.B.A. Be a Model for Women’s Hockey? - The New York Times
Women’s hockey players want a league molded in the image of the W.N.B.A. But will the N.H.L. follow a model the N.B.A. concedes isn’t working?

For women’s hockey, the talk needs to stop and turn to action - Eyes On The Prize
The PWHPA is all in. Who’s going to join them at the table?

International

IIHF Hall of Fame induction 2019
Watch the full ceremony as Hayley Wickenheiser (and others) is inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame.

20 goalies invited to National Women’s Program goaltending camps
Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence and National Women’s Program are preparing for the 2019-20 season with a pair of four-day goaltending camps at the Markin MacPhail Centre at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Brodeur, Hefford, Bilodeau among Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame class of inductees
Hefford, from Kingston, Ont., won four Olympic gold medals and seven world championships with the Canadian women’s hockey team.

New Zealand Women to play exhibition series in Australia | Ice Hockey News Australia
The New Zealand Women’s national team will play a two game exhibition series against AWIHL teams in October.

Digit Murphy: Life, leadership, and the pursuit of equality - The Ice Garden
Legendary coach and innovator sets sights on Aurora Games

NCAA

The Top 2018-19 Freshman Seasons, Pt. 1 - The Ice Garden
A look at two Tigers and a Husky who piled up points in their freshman seasons

Long Island women’s team adds former New Hampshire standout Faber as new assistant coach | College Hockey | USCHO.com
Long Island announced Monday that Sam Faber has been named a full-time assistant coach for the women’s team that will start play in 2019-20 in the NEWHA.

U Sports

Canadian universities find new models to boost funding for women's sports - SooToday.com
One week before the final game was played in the now-defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), the country's top university women’s hockey teams waged their own battle for a national championship.