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Women’s hockey stars announce boycott in demand for one league

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Tired of the status quo and low pay, more than 200 of the world’s top female hockey players announced Thursday they will not play at all this year in an attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league in North America.

”One hundred percent it’s a big risk,” said goaltender Liz Knox, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Players’ Association co-chair. ”But it’s like how long do we want to suffer through this and keep doing the same thing over and over again before we say: ‘There’s got to be better for us.”’

The players announced their decision on social media in a strikingly unified effort that came together in less than a month. The group includes stars such as Americans Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield and Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados, and all of them expressed their dissatisfaction with the current state of the sport while demanding a say in establishing a league.

”We’re not playing anywhere professionally in North America. We just want to build something better,” Knight said. ”Now, what that looks like could be a handful of different things. But our main purpose and goal is to promote the growth of the game and increase the visibility. But ultimately, we need the sustainability factor to make us all feel better about what we’re doing on a daily basis.”

The announcement stressed cross-border unity in North America, home to the top women’s national teams in the world in the U.S. and Canada. The players cited obstacles they’ve had to contend with, including being paid as little as $2,000 a year and paying for their own health insurance.

”We may have represented different teams, leagues and countries – but this is one family. And the time is now for this family to unite,” their statement read. ”This is the moment we’ve been waiting for – our moment to come together and say we deserve move.”

The decision is an immediate threat to the future of the National Women’s Hockey League, the U.S.-based five-team league that is the only current option in North America after the CWHL, which had six teams in the U.S. and Canada and China, formally shut down Wednesday.

The NWHL, however, said it planned to push forward with its fifth season this October and would offer salary increases and a ”50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.”

The NWHL statement did not mention its earlier plans to expand into Toronto and Montreal next season.

All eyes were also on the NHL, which has provided financial support to both the CWHL and NWHL but steered clear of throwing its full support behind a women’s league.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted the NWHL remains in existence, and the NHL has no intention of interfering with its business plan or objectives. Daly added he doesn’t anticipate ”at this early stage” having women’s pro hockey placed on the agenda for the league’s board of governors meetings next month.

”We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps,” Daly said.

The pledge to sit out comes just two years after the U.S. national team earned a pay raise after threatening to boycott the 2017 world championships being held on U.S. soil. And it comes amid other efforts by women’s teams to be treated and paid equitably. The U.S women’s soccer team has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation over their wages and treatment.

”The unity of the players speaks volumes to what is so important to what comes next,” U.S. player Kendall Coyne Schofield said. ”I think with over 200 players and once voice and one collective unit, we’re going to continue to fight for the best option.”

The decision comes little over a month since the CWHL made an abrupt decision to shut down due to financial issues, leaving the NWHL as the only remaining pro league. But rather than make the jump to the NWHL, the players spent the past two weeks reaching a consensus to risk sitting out an entire year.

”Obviously we want to be on the ice, but I think that kind of speaks volumes to how critical it is and how important it is to us,” said Szabados, who spent last season playing for the NWHL Buffalo Beauts.

”It’s strength in numbers. It’s coming from all of us. It’s not just a few of us,” Szabados added. ”It’s not just players who play for one league or the other. It’s over 200 of us that kind of want to stop being pulled in 10 different directions and kind of get all our resources under one roof.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman previously told The Associated Press he doesn’t want the league to be seen as ”a bully” in pushing either of the two leagues out of business. As for assuming control, Bettman has repeatedly said the NHL doesn’t believe in either of the league’s business models.

Bettman reiterated his position during an interview with The AP this week. He referred to the CWHL ceasing operations as something that ”proved the point that we have genuine concerns about sustainable models.”

”What we’ve repeatedly said is if there turns out to be a void – and we don’t wish that on anybody – then we’ll look at the possibilities and we’ll study what might be appropriate,” Bettman added. ”But at the end of the day, we’re not looking to put anybody out of business. And if the NWHL can make a go of it, we wish them good luck.”

That’s not good enough, Knox said.

”The NHL’s saying, ‘Until there’s a voice in women’s hockey we’re not going to step in,”’ Knox said. ”Well, here’s a void. Here’s the players saying this is not enough. We’ve earned better than this. We’ve earned the respect we have, and we deserve what we’re asking for.”

Knox also placed the onus on Hockey Canada and USA Hockey for providing more resources to develop the women’s game.

”Take a look in the mirror, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey,” she said. ”I mean, these are your players who are winning you Olympic medals saying, ‘We’re just not getting enough right now.’ … I would certainly hope it’s a moment for them to self-reflect and say, ‘OK, where are our interests and where do we see it fitting in the future?”

The six-team CWHL operated as a not-for-profit league and was restricted by Canadian tax laws in how much it could pay its players. Though established in 2007, the CWHL didn’t begin paying its players what was considered a stipend – ranging between $10,000 and $2,000 – two years ago.

The NWHL was established in 2015, and became the first league to pay its players annual salaries which ranged from between $26,000 and $10,000 in its inaugural season. Financial difficulties, however, led the NWHL to slash salaries by as much as half a little over a month into its second season.

The NHWL no longer publicly releases player salary numbers.

”The NWHL has time and time again shown it’s not that long-term, viable option for women in hockey, and it does not showcase the best product of women’s hockey in the entire world,” said Coyne Schofield, who most recently played for the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps. ”There’s a lot of things that go into it. … The business model is one of those, the salaries, health insurance, the treatment of the players. There’s a lot of things that make it really tough to be a professional athlete in the NWHL.”

What makes the pledge notable, Knox said, is getting a majority of non-national team players to also commit to the decision because they in some ways have more to risk in not playing.

”They’re making the ultimate sacrifice to say, ‘I would rather not play another professional game this year and possibly the rest of my life than live another day knowing we’re in a world that professional female hockey players do not have the stage they deserve,” Knox said. ”And I think that’s a powerful thing.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.