CWHL cap crunch: How does Toronto handle reserve players?

Jenna Dingeldein is one of a few CWHL players who have been called up from the reserve list this season.
Chris Tanouye/CWHL

You may remember that the CWHL started paying players in the 2017-18 season. Players are paid a minimum of two thousand dollars a season, up to an individual maximum of ten thousand, with a team cap of $100,000. Through some enterprising work from colleagues in Montréal, (who asked Canadiennes players and GM Meg Hewings) we learned that rookies had a base salary of $2,000, sophomore players $2,500 and players with three or more years in the league received a base salary of $3,000. How GMs distribute any leftover money is up to them.

This year also saw the first trade involving cap space as former Blade Jordan Hampton was acquired by Toronto for an undisclosed amount of cap space. (Hampton is currently on the IR with a broken wrist.)

The situations we knew about covered your standard player. However, in addition to their regular 25 player roster, CWHL teams hold the rights of up to a total of 15 extra reserve players on their 40 player roster. This is somewhat similar to the NHL 50 man roster, in that these are players a CWHL team can call up when their bench is shortened due to injuries, or players away due to other commitments (like their day jobs, or national team duties). Since the CWHL doesn’t have an affiliated minor league, these players are sometimes considered retired even though they are available when necessary. Call-ups are usually rare and very short-term. Sometimes teams post their lists publicly (the Calgary Inferno has included a list on their website in past seasons) and sometimes they don’t. Toronto made their training camp roster public this year and indicated that all invited players who didn’t make the active roster would be invited to join the 40 player roster.

So far this season the Furies have seen vets Sydney Kidd and Jenna Dingeldein come off the 40 player roster to play two games each. What about them? In addition, what happens to players like Hampton, Anissa Gamble and Emily Fulton, who sit out due to injuries? What about Carlee Campbell, the Furies defender who had a baby this fall, but has said she’ll be back in the lineup later this season?

On Saturday, the Toronto Furies brought their streaming equipment to Red Deer, AB to allow fans to watch their game against the Calgary Inferno. However, they left their usual commentators back in Toronto. Instead, GM Sami Jo Small and Director of Business Strategy Katrina Galas took to the air, sometimes commenting on the play on the ice, sometimes sharing anecdotes about the Furies, the league, and Small’s playing career. The whole game is available here. (It’s very entertaining, plus the Furies won!)

During the game, viewers were asked to send in questions. Being the enterprising sort, I sent in the question I’d been thinking of asking the GM for a couple of days.

After covering the basic information we already knew, Small got into the specifics of how the Furies are dealing with the situation.

”I believe once I’d paid all of these current players their base salary we are about $64,000, and so I do have some leeway there to be able to give players bonuses.” Some basic math confirms this -- the current Furies roster is approximately divided in thirds: eight rookies, eight longer-term vets, and eight players on their second season. A few players like Olympian Renata Fast and former reserve player Jessica Platt may be on their second or third season depending on how the team is counting experience.

”Other teams in the past have done bonuses based on events the players go to, others have done based on performance, based on awards won, I wanted to do it based on sort of an equal situation that was decided at the start of the year, so each player knows what their bonus is, and will be, and then that’s done for the season.” This is an interesting contrast to something like NHL bonuses, which tend to be tied to games played or points scored. Dingeldein had scored an assist in the game in question, which is the “apple” referred to in the tweet.

”When we brought up Sydney Kidd, we put Brittany Zuback down on the extended roster, so that means that she is no longer eligible for her base salary if she doesn’t continue to be on the full 24-man roster, and that frees up some funds to be able to pay both Kidd and Dingeldein for their services as well. So both of them have signed contracts--and if they play half of the season, for instance, they will get half of their base salary, if it’s just certain games, then we will do it game based, but there is a little bit of money there to be able to ensure that their services are paid similarly to other CWHL players.”

I followed up with Small afterward — Brittany Zuback has made a personal decision to step away from the game for a bit. The timeline is indefinite, but the team will support her if she decides to come back. The game sheet lists her as present for the series in which Kidd came up to play, but that was inaccurate.

Small also brought up an important point. “It isn’t always easy to come into a team halfway through a season, and while they both love playing the sport of hockey, it is a lot, for gas money and equipment and all those things, and so we want to be able to pay them a little bit of money for their time.” Dingeldein, for instance, had to get on a plane to Alberta for the weekend on presumably pretty short notice, which is an extra bit of above and beyond.

Finally, the GM addressed the issue of Carlee Campbell and other players out on medical leave. “This year, we also had Carlee Campbell on a [maternity] leave, and in other instances those players have not been paid, but I chose to pay Carlee because I wanted her to be around the team, and I wanted her to be a leader and continue to do that, and I thought as a women’s sports organization it was really important for us to be leaders and showcase that women, despite the fact that we get pregnant, and we have different things going on in our lives, are just as valuable and just as important as well.”

“So every team can decide what to do in those situations, same with injuries as well--my players who are injured are still paid, so I didn’t want them to feel like they had to rush back to be able to play, I wanted them to feel like we are in a supportive environment, ultimately, my ultimate goal for these players on this Furies roster is to make them good people, and good well-rounded people, and that includes being a hockey player, but that also includes being a good teammate, and being put in different situations, and learning about various things on and off the ice, and we just really want to help them grow, and help us grow together as an organization.”

It’s likely that Sami Jo’s perspective on this was at least somewhat informed by her experience in the 2015-16 season, when she gave birth to her daughter. She did return to team practices later in the season but didn’t return to the roster until the next season. Of course, that was a couple of seasons before pay entered the conversation, but the idea of having to budget for a player’s maternity leave was probably in her mind even before Campbell announced her pregnancy.

Now, not every GM has the amount of cap space available to them that Small does — Montreal, for instance, has a large number of veteran players — and some may have different priorities, but it’s definitely good to hear that at least one GM in the CWHL is taking care of her players financially to the best of her ability.

s/t to Baseball Annie, who did all the transcription for this.

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