Everything you need to know about the new professional women’s hockey league
A new professional women’s hockey league is set to launch in January 2024. The current unnamed league, bought out the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) and is led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owners Mark and Kimbra Walters, along with tennis legend Billie Jean King, sports executive Ilana Kloss and Dodgers President Stan Kasten.
The Walters will financially support the league, while King, Kloss and Kasten will head the board, according to a press release. Most importantly to note, the league is backed by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).
“This new league will be unlike anything we have seen in women’s hockey,” said PWHPA chairperson Jayna Hefford in the press release. “I am inspired by this generation of players who are redefining the sport. We will create dreams and opportunities for girls and women around the world for decades to come.”
Professional women’s hockey in North America has a turbulent past. It began in 1999 with the original National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), which saw three divisions across Canada at its peak. The league disbanded in 2007, one year after the commissioner retired, but cleared the path for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) to come about.
The CWHL was initiated by players from the defunct league and followed the same model as the National Lacrosse League. The league would not pay the players but be responsible for travel, equipment and ice rental costs. The league was the highest level for women’s hockey in North America when it was formed.
CWHL – Getty editorial number 645932012
However, in 2015, the PHF was formed. It was the first professional women’s hockey league to pay its players, and it was the CWHL’s biggest rival. While the PHF would continue to grow by adding sponsorship deals and expansion teams, the CWHL couldn’t sustain itself and met its demise in 2019, officially ceasing operations.
While the PHF seemed like the next best thing for women’s professional hockey, not everyone was on board, specifically those part of the PWHPA. They wanted healthcare benefits, proper equipment, and dedicated facilities for practice and games, but most importantly, they wanted a sustainable wage.
Initially relying on investors, the PHF turned to private ownership, which saw the league’s salary cap gradually grow from $150,000 to $1.5 million set for the 2023–24 season, but the league remained without a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), demonstrating why forming a new league with the PWHPA’s backing is so monumental.
“I am extremely proud of our PWHPA group, which has remained committed to our vision and steadfast in our efforts to change the landscape of women’s professional hockey forever," said Team USA hockey player Kendall Coyne Schofield in the press release.
The new league is expected to feature six teams, three each from Canada and the United States, and while there are many questions for the league – including a name, logo and which cities will receive a team – the league has already made progress.
The PWHPA’s players union – called the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association – ratified a CBA on July 2 via unanimous vote. According to The Athletic, salaries will range from $35,000 to $80,000 or more during the first year. The CBA guarantees competition bonuses, as well as health insurance, housing stipends, maternal leave, childcare coverage, a retirement plan and more. The CBA is effective until July 31, 2031.
“I have always believed that professional sports should bring the highest levels of performance and organization, and this new league will have the backing and resources it needs to represent the very best of women’s hockey,” said M. Walter.
Currently, there are no specifics regarding any franchise placements. However, it seems reasonable to believe that Toronto and Montreal will be strong contenders for a franchise in this new league, as the two Canadian cities to field a team in the PHF. A team in Alberta or British Columbia also seems like a strong option for a Canadian franchise due to the success of NHL teams in western Canada.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for this new league will be deciding the three American franchises. The remaining five teams of the PHF include Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New Jersey and Minnesota, all concentrated in the northeast and midwest. With six months until the puck drops, everyone’s burning questions will soon be answered.