Could a women's professional hockey league be in the future?

One of the big topics at the World Hockey Summit was what could be done to help women’s hockey around the world. While the United States and Canada have dominated global competition since the global introduction of the women’s game at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, no other countries have shown the same kind of growth the game has seen in North America. After the Olympics in Vancouver, IOC President Jacques Rogge said that if improvement isn’t seen elsewhere in the world in the game that he’ll look into dropping women’s hockey from the Olympics.

Seeing how dire a situation this could be for the growth of women’s hockey the NHL is stepping up potentially in a very big way as they’re now looking into developing a professional women’s hockey league.  Jeff Klein of the New York Times elaborates.

“I was in a meeting just this week with the N.H.L. and all the stakeholders in women’s hockey, and I think we have the ear of the N.H.L.,” said Hayley Wickenheiser, 32, a Canadian forward regarded as one of the game’s greatest female players and the keynote speaker at the final day of the World Hockey Summit here.

“They’re looking at it right now from a sponsorship level to get it off the ground,” Wickenheiser said, referring to the N.H.L. “We’re not talking about big salaries, just sensible steps to get it on the ice to entertain people and see where it can go, and then down the road having an elite, W.N.B.A.-type league, which I think we could do.”

Bill Daly, the N.H.L. deputy commissioner, said that the talks had taken place over a number of months and were very preliminary but that they were aimed at setting up a “women’s league or women’s competition.”

“We’ve talked about potential structures that might work, the need for a business plan and our efforts to be helpful to the extent we can be,” Daly said.

Giving hockey-playing women around the world an ultimate goal to shoot for professionally would certainly spur further development in North America, but it also might get women in Sweden, Finland, Russia and elsewhere a motivation to keep playing and look to improve themselves. After all, gearing up for the Olympics every four years can take a toll and make a player’s career seem unnecessarily short.

If you’re thinking this will be something that happens in the near future, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. This is something that could be more than a few years away.

Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said his league has talked “general concepts” with representatives from the new Canadian Women’s Hockey League about the idea but wouldn’t go so far as to say they would follow the NBA model. The basketball league founded the WNBA in 1996 and began play in ’97 with the NBA owning all the women’s teams. Subsequently, the league has moved toward independent ownership.

Following the NBA’s lead as far as undying and borderline oppressive support for the WNBA would be an appropriate way for the NHL to approach a women’s pro league. While the constant advertisements and promos for the WNBA got tiresome after a while, you knew that the league was there and that women were doing things professionally. Whether or not the NHL could follow the same lead financially-speaking to give that kind of unwavering support to the league is another matter entirely.

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