NWHL

Rylan defiant in face of detractors as NWHL opens fifth season

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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.”

National Women’s Hockey League sells Pride to private owner

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BOSTON (AP) — Miles Arnone and a group of investors have purchased the Boston Pride from the National Women’s Hockey League, making it the only club with a private owner.

The NWHL announced the sale of the Pride on Tuesday. The Buffalo Beauts previously were the only team with a private owner until Terry and Kim Pegula sold it back to the league in May.

The NWHL hired a firm to help find owners for all five of its teams, which had been league-owned and managed. Commissioner Dany Rylan believes having a private owner committed to a team helps boost local marketing and sales.

The fifth NWHL season begins in October. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceased operations in the spring.

Dozens of top players have pledged not to compete in North America this season with the goal of establishing a single, economically viable professional league.

NWHL goes outdoors with Beauts to host Riveters in Buffalo

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The National Women’s Hockey League is taking its game outdoors with the Buffalo Beauts scheduled to host the Metropolitan Riveters on Dec. 28 in what’s being called the ”Buffalo Believes Classic.”

The game will be played at RiverWorks, a year-round bar/entertainment complex located on the banks of the Buffalo River and features a rink exposed to the elements while covered by a roof. The rink’s capacity is about 1,000.

The five-team NWHL is preparing to open its fifth season, though without many of its most high-profile players. A majority of U.S. and Canadian Olympians are among more than 200 players who have pledged to not compete in North America this season in a bid to establish one professional league with a long-term sustainable financial model.

The boycott came after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceased operation last spring, leaving the NWHL as North America’s only pro women’s league.

Bettman: NHL will discuss video review; no China preseason games in 2019

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BOSTON — There will plenty for the NHL’s Competition Committee and the League’s 31 general managers to discuss when both groups meet on separate dates next month, but the leading topic of discussion will be what to do with video review.

As we know, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have featured plenty of officiating controversies, highlighted by the missed hand pass by San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final that immediately lead to Erik Karlsson’s overtime winner against the St. Louis Blues. No one, outside of the Sharks and their fans, was happy with the missed called and the officials’ inability to review the play.

Meeting with the media ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that feedback will be solicited from the appropriate parties and then discussions will begins to either tweak the video review process or leave it unchanged.

“Consistency is going to be as important as anything else,” said Bettman, who also noted the League is concerned with slowing the game down. “We understand from the track record what the issue are and where the problems can be in implementation.”

What won’t happen is a reduction in what plays can be reviewed. “I don’t think you can go backwards anymore. That ship has sailed,” Bettman said.

NO CHINA GAMES IN 2019-20

China is set to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding in the fall, which put a wrinkle in the NHL trying to finalize arrangements to hold preseason games in the country again next season. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames played two games in September as part of the League’s strategy to grow the game over there.

But the NHL is still attempting to have a presence in China in 2019.

“We’re going to double down on our efforts in China. We’re going to really ramp up our presence there,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Hopefully including over this summer with player visits and league visits, Players’ Association visits and the like. We’re going to continue to invest in grassroots and school programs and continue to fuel growth of youth hockey in China.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Bettman also responded to IIHF president Rene Fasel’s quote over the weekend at the World Championship that said he’d like to set a September 2020 deadline for the league to make a commitment to the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. Bettman said nothing has been communicated to the league regarding that yet.

CBA DISCUSSIONS CONTINUE

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have continued having dialogue in hopes of avoiding another work stoppage at the end of the 2021-22 season. In September, both sides have the option to end the agreement one year early — after the 2020-21 season — but there’s still a long way to go before any final decisions are made.

“We both recognize what’s at stake come September in terms of each of us having unilateral right to shorten the agreement and have it expire in 2020, as opposed to 2022,” said Daly.

“When you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game and how it’s grown, there’s a lot to be said for labor peace, and that’s something we’re very focused on,” Bettman said. “If you asked the Players’ Association, [Don Fehr] could list 10 or 15 things he’d like to change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We could probably do the same thing but ultimately this is going to come down to what’s most important.”

Talks between the sides will continue this summer.

“Everybody has their own thoughts It depends on what happens,” said Fehr. “We’ve got a board meeting in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll have player meetings all summer long. If we need another board meeting the end of August, first month of September, we will.”

NHL AND WOMEN’S HOCKEY

The NHL will continue watching as the “dust settles” in women’s hockey now that the CWHL has folded and 200 professional players have declared they will sit out the 2019-20 season in hopes of a long-term, economically viable solution Is found in North America.

“Whether or not it’s appropriate for us to get involved with a league, at least starting our own league, is something that not everybody agrees on from afar and it’s not anything we’ve focused on yet,” said Bettman.

The NHL was involved in set up the U.S.-Canada Rivalry Series in February and included Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast in NHL All-Star Weekend in January. Bettman said in the meantime they will continue to be involved in one-off ideas.

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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.

Pro women hockey players form union in step toward league

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More than 200 of the world’s top women’s hockey players have formed a union, saying they must ”stand together” if there is to be a sustainable professional league.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) said Monday the paperwork was filed Friday to help push for the creation of a ”single, viable women’s professional league in North America.”

The women had announced earlier this month their pledge to sit out the upcoming season in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League abruptly shut down this year. That leaves only the National Women’s Hockey League, which took back control of the Buffalo Beauts on May 8.

The PWHPA said in a statement the association also will help players coordinate training needs and opportunities and develop sponsor support.

”We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” Kendall Coyne Schofield said in a statement. ”It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

Coyne Schofield won Olympic gold with the U.S. in 2018 and was an NWHL All-Star with the Minnesota Whitecaps this past season.

The new union’s members include players from Europe along with the U.S. and Canada.

”We might play for different teams, and come from different countries, but we’re united in our goals,” said goaltender Noora Raty, who has won two Olympic bronze medals with Finland. ”This is about protecting ourselves, protecting our future, and making hockey a better place for women and girls.”

The PWHPA made it clear the union wants a league that provides health insurance, money and infrastructure along with support for training programs.

”We are prepared to stop playing for a year, which is crushing to even think about, because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados said. ”We know we can make this work, and we want the chance to try.”

Liz Knox, former co-chair of the CWHL Players Association, said the players are uncertain about what happens next.

”But we move forward united, dedicated, and hopeful for our future and the future of this game we love so much,” Knox said.

The NWHL stresses that not everyone is boycotting the lone remaining women’s professional league.

The league announced a couple of player deals, notably one featuring Madison Packer. Packer, who is tied for most goals in NWHL history, signed for $12,000 to play the upcoming season with the Metropolitan Riveters. The NWHL previously announced players also will receive a 50 percent cut of revenue and 15 percent apparel sales with their names this upcoming season.

”I’m coming back for a fifth season because I am passionate about continuing my playing career and to advance the game and our league,” Packer said.

”I’m confident in the direction our sport is headed, and in the plan the NWHL has laid out for a strong season and positive experience for players and fans. It’s important to build off the momentum created by the league’s success last season, and my body feels good enough to continue playing.”

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