PWHL confirms launch with three Canadian, three American teams
The new women's professional hockey league unveiled its name and "Original Six" cities Tuesday, as well as outlining player intake process for its inaugural season.
The Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) is putting teams in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the New York area in 2023-24.
The league will soon announce the six general managers who will begin building team rosters. A 10-day free agency period starts Friday followed by a 15-round draft in Toronto on Sept. 18, and training camps starting Nov. 13.
Each team will play a 24-game regular season, including a dozen home games, starting in early January. Team names and home arenas have yet to be revealed, and the schedule has yet to be finalized.
Subsequent seasons will be 32 games starting in November. Salaries range between US$35,000 and $80,000.
"I started playing when I was six years old. I grew up as one of very few girls playing the game. I had the opportunity to compete for Canada for 17 years and compete in five Olympic Games, but never did I dream of something like this," said Jayna Hefford, a Hockey Hall of Famer from Kingston, Ont., now working as the PWHL's senior vice-president of hockey operations.
"I dreamt of what I could see, which was the NHL."
Training camp rosters will be 28 players per club and whittled down to 23 by opening day. A pool of approximately 300 players have participated in an information call, Hefford said.
Players must declare their willingness to enter the draft by Sunday.
Los Angeles Dodgers majority owner Mark Walter is the league's financial backer. Longtime NHL executive Brian Burke was announced Tuesday as the league's executive director.
"Women have improved more in hockey than any other sport on the planet, in my view," Burke said during a video conference call with media. "I've watched the struggles. I've watched players borrow tape and borrow laces.
"It was a very emotional moment for me when they offered me the job."
The PWHL's board of directors includes tennis icon Billie Jean King, sports executive Ilana Kloss, Dodgers president Stan Kasten and Dodgers senior vice-president of business strategy Royce Cohen.
Walter buying out the seven-team rival Premier Hockey Federation and his group negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA) this summer cleared the deck for a new women's pro league.
"We understand that this is going to be expensive, particularly in the early years, but we're prepared for that," Kasten said.
Both he and Walter have taken calls from people interested in buying teams, he said.
"We don't have teams for sale, at least not today," Kasten. "Might we in the future? We might. We certainly expect to expand beyond six teams, but we want to get our model right first."
The majority of the Canadian women's hockey team and over half of the U.S. squad were PWHPA members, so the PWHL will feature the biggest names in the game, including Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight, Sarah Nurse and Brianne Jenner.
"We've continued to say that this league is for the best players in the world," Hefford said.
The NHL is a PWHL supporter as a consultant, Kasten said.
"They've helped us identify markets," Kasten said. "We've also had conversations about the future, about maybe doing business together, whether its sponsorship or events together, things like that.
"Mostly it's support. Mostly it's advice, it's assistance for anything we have asked."
Commissioner Gary Bettman had previously said the NHL wouldn't get involved in women's pro hockey as long as the PWHPA and PHF operated separately.
"We remain committed to supporting the women's game and look forward to working together with the PWHL to grow our sport," the NHL said Tuesday in a statement.
Televising and streaming PWHL games is a work in progress.
"Our goal is that every game is streamed if not on TV somewhere," Kasten said. "You can't stream a game without real production behind it, so that involves a lot of details, a lot of expense, a lot of investment, but a lot of details. We are working on that."
Current or graduating players from NCAA or U Sports are not eligible for the free agency period. They can enter the draft, but that could affect NCAA eligibility.
"The important part in this for us is that the players need to consult with their (campus) compliance officers to understand the impact to them should they enter the draft," Hefford said.
The selection order for the draft's first round will be determined by lottery with teams selecting in subsequent rounds in reverse order of the previous rounds.
"There's going to be a strong level of integrity to this draft," Hefford said. "You're going to a team that wants you and thinks you can compete, not because you happen to have a home there, or family in the market."
Each team is limited to 20 standard player agreements before November's training camp. Six players on each team will be signed to three-year contracts of US$80,000 per year.
Players can be traded in-season, but no draft picks can be dealt until the completion of the 2023-24 season. Hefford said the PWHL is currently developing a policy for transgender players.
The PWHL's foundation now under construction, those building it hope it will be an attractive product for people's entertainment dollars.
"No fan owes us their time or money," Kasten said. "It's on us to earn it and I accept that challenge."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.