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What’s in a year? Factoring 10 seasons of history into a CWHL base salary

Paying the players is great! But it’s not that simple.

Shannon Moulson out of focus in the background. In the foreground is the game puck from her 218th game, labelled “218 CWHL”
Shannon Moulson leads the league in games played but that might not be enough to get her top dollar.
Chris Tanouye / CWHL

On September 1, 2017, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced player compensation for regular season play for the first time in league history.

The announcement contained the following information:

Compensation will range from $2,000 to $10,000 per player, based on how many years they’ve played in the CWHL while general managers will have a discretionary fund to contribute to player earnings.

In the Globe and Mail story that broke the news, Rachel Brady added a further detail:

Each of the league's seven clubs will get a $100,000 salary cap, and that pool of money will be divided among the players as each team sees fit.

(Salary caps are much easier to impose when most of the teams are owned by the league. The NHL should try buying out all its owners, see if the next CBA gets negotiated any more easily.)

As we all know, the last things fans want to do is speculate about contract amounts and salary caps, right Gary? So clearly I’m a bad fan because my reaction was “Whee! To the spreadsheets!”

Taking the information above, I plunked in the Toronto Furies roster from 2016-17, removed the players we know for certain won’t be returning, added a rookie to get us to the 25 player roster, and had a look at the absolute simplest route: $2000 for rookies, increasing by $1000 per year of experience, to a max of $10,000 per player.

Projected Furies Salaries 2017-18

Player Experience Salary
Player Experience Salary
Rookie 0 $2,000.00
Erin Ambrose 1 $3,000.00
Carlee Campbell 1 $3,000.00
Jenna Dingeldein 1 $3,000.00
Renata Fast 1 $3,000.00
Danielle Gagne 1 $3,000.00
Victoria MacKenzie 1 $3,000.00
Vanessa Spataro 1 $3,000.00
Ella Stewart 1 $3,000.00
Erin Zach 1 $3,000.00
Amanda Makela 1 $3,000.00
Jessica Platt 1 $3,000.00
Emily Fulton 2 $4,000.00
Katie Gaskin 2 $4,000.00
Michelle Saunders 2 $4,000.00
Sena Suzuki 2 $4,000.00
Tanis Lamoureux 3 $5,000.00
Julie Allen 4 $6,000.00
Jess Vella 4 $6,000.00
Carolyne Prevost 5 $7,000.00
Natalie Spooner 5 $7,000.00
Sonja van der Bliek 5 $7,000.00
Christina Kessler 7 $9,000.00
Shannon Moulson 9 $10,000.00
Sami Jo Small 9 $10,000.00
Total $118,000.00

Looks great! Except for that pesky “total” down there. $18,000 over the cap. The Furies have a fairly high number of inexperienced players too — with this sort of straightforward calculation the Canadiennes would be well over that total.

I played around with numbers for a while (s/t to Kirsten Whelan and Jared Book who had already come up with some scenarios to try out with Montréal) but couldn’t come up with anything that I thought made sense.

Then Jared dropped this little tidbit in his latest article on the subject:

Eyes on the Prize has learned from a source that the $2,000 minimum salary that has been reported will be higher depending on a player’s time in the league, up to $3,000. General managers then have the ability to divide the rest of the team’s $100,000 salary cap, after minimums, as they see fit (this appears to be the ‘discretionary fund’ that has been referred to in the past).

A minimum range from $2000 - $3000 with the rest dependent upon negotiations between players and the GM, up to $10,000 per player. Well, that’s less fun to speculate about. A lot closer to the sort of thing you see in the NHL, but less fun for me, personally.

That said, in trying to come up with a pay structure that fit the original information, I learned a lot about the sort of issues that might come up in determining that base pay. They might be smaller issues right now, when the range goes from $2000 - $3000, but if the range ever does increase, they might become magnified down the road.

So for the edification of fans and any CWHLPA representatives who may be wondering if they covered all the bases when sorting this all out, here are some things that might go into determining the base pay of a CWHL player.


How many years they’ve played

You’d think this part would be easy. “Years they’ve played in the CWHL”. Not games on the ice, but years in the league. I’m sure Shannon Moulson — who holds the record among active players with 218 games played, but has only played nine of the league’s 10 seasons — was hoping otherwise, but she was probably the only one.

While it would be nice to see Moulson get the top payday to go along with her record, this makes sense. Players who missed games due to outside commitments (work, family, injury, national team obligations) shouldn’t be penalized. Plus, there are a few years where CWHL record keeping’s a bit fuzzy.

But what counts as a year?

If you look at the Furies stats from last season, five players played less than half the season, some of them less than a quarter. Should all of them be considered to have gained a year’s experience?

The five players include back-up goalies Sonja van der Bliek (seven games) and Sami Jo Small (one game). Should any games that they spent dressed but not on the ice count? It would seem like the obvious answer is yes but it immediately shows that, if there is a minimum threshold for games played, something other than the traditional stat lines needs to be used for goalies. Better make sure those game sheets are accurate.

Perhaps in a league where all players still have some sort of outside obligation that supersedes their league commitments, any sort of minimum game threshold above one would be considered punitive. So then we could say “any year a player is on the roster”.

Reserve players

Defender Jessica Platt didn’t make the 25 player roster last year, but she stayed on the reserve list and ended up playing four games for Toronto. Going forward, would her experience as a reserve player count as equal to that of roster players, or somehow less? And what about first-time reserve players this season? It would seem logical that a smart GM would keep back a certain amount under the cap to pay reserve players but how much? Does a non-roster player get that $2000 the moment she’s called up?

Medical leave

Forward Julie Allen was injured in the offseason prior to the 2015-16 season. She remained on the roster that year but never managed to play a single game. In the same season, Sami Jo Small was on maternity leave and was not listed on the roster. Does that year count for Allen and not for Small?

Olympic twist

In the past, players who were not on the roster during the regular season have not been allowed to play in the playoffs. In Olympic years this has led to Canadian and US national team players being listed on a team’s roster during the regular season despite playing few, or in some cases no games during the season. If all three of the Furies’ centralized players are back for the playoffs, will those players be paid for a full season? Would that season count as a full year of experience? What about if one or more of them doesn’t make the Olympic roster and comes back in January or earlier?

Western Women’s Hockey League

Back in ye olden days the original NWHL was more an eastern league and the WWHL had teams in the midwest-to-western area. While the NWHL folded in the 2007 offseason, the WWHL kept going for another three seasons. In 2010, members of the Edmonton Chimos and the Strathmore Rockies joined the CWHL as Team Alberta. Team Alberta later became the Calgary Inferno.

There aren’t a ton of those players left but there are two (Laura Dostaler and Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid) who have been in the league ever since. Plus, Baiwei Yu — who was drafted by Red Star this year — played the 2007-08 season with the Edmonton Chimos. Would WWHL years from 2007-2010 count towards CWHL experience for all three players? After all for most players, playing in the WWHL versus the CWHL would mostly be determined by other factors.

Pre-draft play

The CWHL didn’t actually adopt a draft format until 2010, and even then not everyone who played in the league actually went through the draft. Generally speaking one would assume that everyone who played in the CWHL would have that time credited towards calculating their base pay whether they were drafted or not. However, there are a few exceptions.

From the fuzzy time before entry via the draft was strictly enforced, a number of players (Natalie Spooner and Marie-Philip Poulin, among others) played anywhere from a few games to a full season in the CWHL as teenagers. In most cases this happened in an Olympic season when players were a bit more scarce. They then went off to college for at least four years. When they returned to the league they were not considered to be free agents, but were required to go through the draft. Still, CWHL games were played. Should they count?


When I made up the chart above, I had to answer some of these questions.

  • I did count all players who played a game last season as having that year as experience, including Platt.
  • Allen’s 2015-16 season counted because she was on the roster. Small’s didn’t, because she wasn’t listed. (I would argue though, that going forward a player on mat leave should be listed on the roster if that’s what determines pay.)
  • I didn’t count Spooner’s pre-draft play, mostly because it was only a few games, but I did count her 2013-14 season (the woman helped them win a Cup for crying out loud).
  • I didn’t have to deal with WWHL players, but I’d probably count those years too.

My thinking is that the focus right now should be on getting these players paid as much as possible, not docking them for things out of their control. Would the CWHLPA and the CWHL agree with all of my decisions? It’s hard to say, and we may not get the answers, at least not this year (remember, the CWHL has been advised by the NHL on a lot of things, presumably including “fans don’t care about salary numbers”). Generally, I’m okay with that. It’s fun to speculate and it would be more fun to know but we don’t actually have a right to the information. Still, hopefully all of these issues have been carefully considered when calculating each player’s base pay.