Rylan defiant in face of detractors as NWHL opens fifth season

7 Comments

National Women’s Hockey League founder and commissioner Dani Rylan has a blunt message for her detractors in preparing to open her fifth season.

”We’re not going anywhere. We’re just growing,” she told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview last month.

There are questions about the league’s stability after several franchises lost their local NHL teams’ backing and some 200 of the world’s top players opted to sit out this year. Rylan is nonetheless defiant and insists there will be a sixth season next October, a seventh one after that and so on.

If that means moving forward without Olympians and with the NHL questioning whether the privately backed league’s business model is financially sustainable, then so be it.

”I would ask what about it is not sustainable, what don’t they like,” Rylan said.

”I think the message right now is the NHL needs to save professional women’s hockey,” she added. ”And I just believe that a pro women’s league should be able to prove that it’s viable without the NHL, without NHL teams. And that’s what we’re proving.”

Rylan noted that North America’s first pro women’s league has paid out over $3 million in salaries. Last season, she said, it enjoyed 16 sellouts while setting league highs in apparel sales and online viewership. And it enters this season having added new sponsors, including a new live-streaming partner, Twitch, to broadcast every game.

The five-team league kicks off its 60-game regular-season schedule – up from 40 last year – on Saturday.

It has been a tumultuous offseason for the NWHL, which even Rylan acknowledged involving ”some ups and downs” for its teams in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The biggest downer came shortly after the rival Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced it was folding last spring and the NWHL was unable to fill the vacuum. The league eventually backed off on its bid to expand into Toronto and Montreal. Then more than 200 of the top female players balked at signing with the NWHL by pledging they would not play professionally in North America this season.

The disaffected players instead formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to demand a league with a sustainable economic model that can one day pay them a living wage.

Rylan called the players’ decision a lost opportunity, considering there is currently only one league in operation.

”There was clarity in the market. All the players all the sponsors, investors, brands, everyone knew where to concentrate their interest,” she said.

”When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” Rylan said. ”I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.”

PWHPA executive and former CWHL interim commissioner Jayna Hefford disagreed with Rylan’s assessment. She believes the decision to form a union spurred rather than hindered the momentum in pushing for one sustainable league.

”I’ve never seen that kind of unity in sport before. It was powerful. It was impactful,” Hefford said. ”It’s been very clear that the players don’t feel like that option (the NWHL) provides the resources and the infrastructure that they continue to say they need.”

PWHPA players have launched a North American barnstorming tour, attracting sponsors such as Budweiser, Adidas, Secret, Unifor (Canada’s largest private-sector union) and Dunkin’ Donuts, which also backs the NWHL.

The NWHL has a spotty track record in paying salaries, which led to some high-profile defections to the CWHL. After paying players between $10,000 and $26,000 during its inaugural season, the NWHL was forced to slash salaries by more than half a month into the next season in order to stay afloat.

The league no longer makes all players salaries public, though it announced Lexi Bender signed a $13,000 contract to play for Boston this season. This year, players will also receive a 50% cut from all sponsorship agreements, plus 15% of revenue from apparel sold featuring their respective names.

It still won’t be easy marketing a league in which a majority of players are newcomers, some coming off college careers at the Division II or club levels.

Among the more high-profile rookies are Sydney Baldwin, a two-time NCAA champion at Minnesota, as well as Slovakia national team members Lenka Curmova and Iveta Klimasova.

Based on signing announcements and a study of team rosters posted on the league’s website, the NWHL features 39 returning players and 57 newcomers, including three former CWHL players. Among those coming back are Madison Packer and Jillian Dempsey, who share the NWHL career record with 29 goals each.

That still doesn’t replace the star power the Buffalo Beauts alone had last year on a roster that included U.S. Olympians Dani Cameranesi, Emily Pfalzer, Lisa Chesson and Nicole Hensley, and Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados.

Another blow came when NHL Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula relinquished control of the Beauts in May. The move meant the league not only losing the Pegulas’ financial backing of the franchise, but forced the team to relocate from its downtown arena to a suburban multi-rink complex.

The Metropolitan Riveters no longer have an agreement with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, who provided the team marketing assistance and ice time.

On the plus side, a group of investors led by Cannon Capital managing partner Miles Arnone purchased the Boston Pride.

”We see the opportunity and the potential to grow and the excitement that exists not only for pro women’s hockey, but pro women’s sports,” Rylan said. ”We want to advance that. And we’re not slowing down any time soon.”

Blackhawks sign Ian Mitchell, will join team in 2020-21

Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) — Ian Mitchell will have to wait until next season to join the Chicago Blackhawks.

The 21-year-old Mitchell, one of the organization’s top prospects, agreed to a three-year contract in April. But there was some question about when the defenseman’s entry-level deal might begin.

Mitchell is ineligible for the resumption of the NHL season, and the team announced Thursday it had finalized a contract with the former University of Denver star that begins with the 2020-21 season rather than burns a year right now so he can practice with the team.

The Blackhawks face Edmonton in Game 1 of the qualifying round on Aug. 1.

The team also announced it had agreed to a two-year contract with defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk and a one-year deal with forward Pius Suter. The deals for Mitchell, Kalynuk and Suter each carry a $925,000 salary-cap hit per season.

Mitchell was selected by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2017 draft. He was a first-team All-American during his junior year at Denver, collecting 10 goals and 22 assists during the regular season. He also served as team captain.

He finished his career with the Pioneers with 18 goals and 71 assists in 116 games.

Mitchell and Kalynuk join a promising group of young defensemen that includes 19-year-old Adam Boqvist, a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. Nicolas Beaudin, who doesn’t turn 21 until October, also could be a factor as soon as next season.

The 23-year-old Kalynuk had a career-high 28 points in 36 games during his junior season at the University of Wisconsin, finishing with seven goals and 21 assists. He also served as a team captain with the Badgers.

Kalynuk was originally selected by Philadelphia in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL draft.

Suter, 24, won the MVP award for Switzerland’s National League-A last season, collecting 30 goals and 23 assists in 50 games for the ZSC Lions.

2019-20 Lady Byng finalists: MacKinnon, Matthews, O’Reilly

1 Comment

The NHL announced Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche), Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs), and Ryan O'Reilly (Blues) as the three finalists for the 2019-20 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. The Lady Byng is awarded to the player “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

As usual, the Professional Hockey Writers Association votes on the award.

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov won the Lady Byng in 2018-19. O’Reilly finished among the finalists that season.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule, now with start times]

The Lady Byng Trophy cases for finalists MacKinnon, Matthews, O’Reilly

Quick case for Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon, 24, managed another great season (93 points, Ted Lindsay Award finalist) while posting a career-low 12 PIM in 2019-20. Considering his significant ice time (21:13 TOI average), it’s impressive that the speedy scorer kept his PIM totals so low. This is his first Lady Byng nomination.

Matthews becomes Lady Byng finalist after tumultuous offseason

No doubt, Auston Matthews finishing as Lady Byng finalist will create controversy. Honestly, it’s easy to understand such critiques.

While Matthews’ disorderly conduct was dismissed in November, plenty will wonder why he finished among the top three. Would Teuvo Teravainen (63 points, eight PIM) served as a better choice, for example? Maybe Ryan Suter (12 PIM despite workhorse duties) instead?

From an on-ice perspective, Matthews makes a case as a Lady Byng finalist. Matthews produced 47 goals and shouldered a substantial ice time burden while only being whistled for eight PIM.

Ryan O’Reilly aims for another Lady Byng Trophy

As great as it’s been to see “ROR” get recognition as a Selke winner, O’Reilly has been a Lady Byng fixture for years. In fact, the dominant two-way forward won the Lady Byng in 2013-14. This marks O’Reilly’s third season in a row among Lady Byng finalists.

Remarkably, this marks the sixth of O’Reilly’s 11 seasons where he finished with 10 PIM or less. O’Reilly scored 61 points, excelled as a two-way player as usual, and kept his PIM to a neat 10 in 2019-20.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Masterton Trophy: Stephen Johns, Oskar Lindblom, Bobby Ryan

• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

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.

Johns, Lindblom, Ryan are 2019-20 Masterton Trophy finalists

Leave a comment

Stephen Johns of the Stars, Oskar Lindblom of the Flyers, and Bobby Ryan of the Senators are the three finalists for the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy. The award, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Robin Lehner was last season’s winner.

Each local chapter submits one nominee and the full PHWA membership votes at the conclusion of the regular season. You can find the full list of nominees here.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

Stephen Johns’ story: The Stars defenseman missed 22 months due to post-traumatic headaches. He made his NHL return in January and played over 18 minutes that night against the Wild. He would play 17 games this season and scored his first goal at Madison Square Garden in a win over the Rangers. “Throughout this whole process, it wasn’t just me going through hell,” he told the Dallas Morning News in June. “As parents, they want to help and for them to be here and see that, I probably know my dad was for sure crying. I’m pretty excited to go see them and give them both a big hug.”

Oskar Lindblom’s story: It was in December that the Flyers forward was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. At that time he was tied for the team lead in goals scorer (11) through 30 games. After months of treatment, the 23-year-old got to ring the bell at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia earlier this month as his treatments came to an end. He won’t play in the postseason, but there is hope he can rejoin the team for next season.

Bobby Ryan’s story: Ryan left the Senators in late November to enter the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to deal with an alcohol problem. He returned in February and recorded a hat trick in his first game back in Ottawa. That led to emotional standing ovations and Ryan being name the game’s No. 1 star. He hopes to continue to tell his story to help others. “Because I’ve been open and candid about that, I think people have looked at me and said, ‘There’s a very relatable person,'” Ryan told the Ottawa Sun. “Through my family stuff and now with alcohol issues, I’ve never hid from it and I’ve always said, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to do it in the public eye and I’m going to have to be candid with it.”

The winner will be announced during the conference finals.

The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and who died on Jan. 15, 1968.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Lady Byng Trophy: Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly

• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Oskar Lindblom reflects on battling cancer

Leave a comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lindblom’s battle, key Wild decisions, and more

• Alex Prewitt shares a detailed, touching account of Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom‘s battle with cancer. [SI]

• USA Hockey announced the cancellation of the 2020 World Junior Summer showcase. The event was originally scheduled for July 24-31, but it makes sense to err on the side of caution. [USA Hockey]

• Ken Campbell believes the Wild took care of the present by dropping the interim tag from head coach Dean Evason, and secured the future by signing Kirill Kaprizov. I’d say the jury is still out on Evason, but getting Kaprizov signed is huge — even if COVID-19 presents more bumps in the road. [The Hockey News]

• How about some more detail on Evason, then? Tony Abbott breaks down why Wild GM Bill Guerin might have been impressed with Evason. In particular, it’s interesting to see that the Wild picked up the pace with Evason after firing Bruce Boudreau. [Zone Coverage]

• A fun one from John Matisz on various skills that hockey players find difficult to master. Some covet Nicklas Lidstrom’s ability to walk the line. Kevin Shattenkirk marvels at the deceptive “hitch” Nikita Kucherov can put on his shot. [The Score]

• Ranking the Detroit Red Wings’ jerseys, from worst to first. That 1928-29 Cougars logo is choice. [Hockey by Design]

NHL training camps, insight on playoff matchups, and free agency

• The Maple Leafs don’t view training camp as merely an opportunity to tune up. Instead, such activities are being framed as competition for playoff roster spots. I imagine players like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly don’t have to worry too much, though. [Sportsnet]

• Sin Bin Vegas transcribed key Robin Lehner quotes about his free agent future. Over and over again, it seems clear that Lehner craves term in contract offers, making me wonder if a savvy team might be able to bring his AAV down by giving him some stability. Goalies are unpredictable, but you could make worse bets than Lehner, who’s been outstanding since at least 2018-19. [Sin Bin Vegas/TSN 1200 interview]

Really, the biggest story for today’s PHT Morning Skate might be Lehner’s silly leg pads:

 

• Count Brenden Dillon among the pending UFAs who would prefer to stick with their teams. In Dillon’s case, it’s the Capitals, whom he’s still becoming acquainted with. Looking at the Capitals’ cap situation, Dillon returning isn’t out of the question, although that might boil down to what kind of deal the rugged defenseman expects. Also, it may hinge on other decisions, such as what to do with Braden Holtby. [Nova Caps Fans]

• As the Canadiens await, which players are the biggest X-factors for the Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• Being that the Flames and Jets only met in an outdoor game, Paul Maurice doesn’t believe there’s much video to use in preparing for Calgary. He also explains how NHL systems are like battleships. Hopefully the return to play doesn’t flop like that movie. [Winnipeg Free Press]

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.