NWHL Approves Expansion In Wake Of CWHL Closure

Just hours after the CWHL announced their sudden closure on Sunday morning, The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian reported that the National Women’s Hockey League would investigate the possibility of adding a pair of Canadian teams to the mix.

After speaking with an anonymous source as the CWHL’s closure continued to hold still, Salvian was informed that the NWHL would absolutely look at adding a team or two for the upcoming season with the top options being Montreal and one of the Greater Toronto Area teams. She then went onto mention that this was due to cost and travel considerations.

A short time later, Dani Rylan confirmed that there had been discussions between the two sides after having met with the CWHL in January to discuss the next steps to create one unified league. After the meeting concluded, they agreed to meet again in April.

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Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon, Emily Kaplan of ESPN.com spoke with NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan who had plenty of information to share, a start to the next chapter of women’s hockey.

Rylan led off the conversation with a positive asset to the game in Canada, mentioning that the league’s board of directors had approved the investment into a pair of Canadian markets. She would continue on in saying that the expectation would be for the league to have teams in Toronto and Montreal this season.

In the past, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he would help fund one unified women’s hockey league if it came to that and with the knowledge that the CWHL will cease all operations as of May 1st, Rylan met with Bettman on Monday to put a foot forward in the right direction.

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Speaking further to that extent, Rylan mentioned that the NHL had agreed to significantly up its contribution to the NWHL, therefore, making the National Hockey League one of the NWHL’s biggest financial sponsors.

Looking at finances in greater measure, Rylan would add to that as well, noting that the expectation is for salaries to grow within the NWHL this coming season. According to Emily Kaplan, the NWHL had a salary cap of $100,000 last season with the lowest-paid player receiving a total of $2,500 for the year.

As Emily Kaplan reports in her news story, Rylan has heard “not only from NHL owners, but other major stakeholders in major league sports,” about potential private ownership of one of the NWHL franchises.” She would also add on that a relocation for Connecticut has been considered by the board of directors.

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To follow that up, Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet.ca added on that in light of the league’s expansion, the NWHL is pursuing opportunities to work with existing partners as well as stakeholders.

Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto was next to the table when he reported as per a source that the NHL is going from paying $50k to each women’s league to now paying $100k for the one league remaining.

In referencing prior partnerships between lower leagues and the NHL, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic Toronto mentions that the NHL gave the CHL more than $12-million this year. As Wheeler continues on, he mentions that a CHL team that produces one (1) NHL graduate gets more (as much as $175K) for training that one player than the NWHL may get for turning thousands of young girls into hockey fans (and consequently NHL viewers).

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According to Lyndsey D’Arcangelo of The Athletic Buffalo, more positives then negatives resulted from today’s media phone call with the NWHL. In addition to increase in player salaries and the expansion of two teams in Canada, the league has upgraded the schedule from 16 games to 24 games. The phone call also let CWHL players know that there are still opportunities for them to play.

D’Arcangelo also makes note of the increase in funding from the National Hockey League while there will be no unrestricted free agency for players of the National Women’s Hockey League in the offseason. The league would close out in saying that while franchises are planned for Toronto and Montreal, that “doesn’t mean that the door is closed on anything else.” For the time being, that is all they can say on it for now. 

According to Hailey Salvian of The Athletic Toronto, the players, coaches and GM’s of the National Women’s Hockey League were shocked by the decision to expand into Toronto and Montreal. This decision was not made in collaboration with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Shanna Martin/CWHL

Since the NWHL made their collaboration efforts available to the public, CWHL players who remain at home have come together to release a statement which reads, “On behalf of the former teams of the CWHL, we would like to acknowledge that we are aware that the NWHL wants to expand in Canada, adding two teams. There are currently no negotiations occurring between any former CWHL teams and the NWHL.”

“We will continue to gather all the information necessary to create the best environment possible come September, in order to retain and attract players from around the world.”

“The united voice of the players is critical. Twenty-eight former CWHL players are currently in Espoo, Finland preparing to compete in the IIHF Women’s World Championship, which runs from April 4 to the 14th. We will continue to evaluate all the options on the table and plan to work in solidarity.”

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As noted by Hailey Salvian, the league is determined to stand united, a plan which does not appear to mesh with the idea of the NWHL only taking on two teams. That being said, she goes on to list the two ways that the press release from the CWHL can be looked at.

The negative case scenario would be they don’t want to cooperate with the NWHL, meanwhile, the positive would be the NWHL expanding with two teams which fills maybe 50 roster spots with almost 100 players and four franchises left alone.

With this in mind, the CWHL is choosing to stand united. Therefore, if the NWHL moves into the two markets, it would be separate from the franchises who are currently with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League until May 1st.

Teri Di-Lauro/CWHL

I spoke with Erica Howe, Markham Thunder goaltender, on Monday afternoon about the CWHL’s decision to fold and in speaking about the many emotions that were felt from the impact of the announcement, Erica said to me in a written statement, “I am shocked and devastated by the news we received. As players, support staff and volunteers we had no idea this was coming. Many people, past and present, have poured their hearts into growing this league and it is extremely disappointing to see it end.”

When speaking about the uncertainty that this leaves for herself, her teammates and opponents, Howe, who has been a key piece of the Markham Thunder duo for the past five seasons, told me, “We are left with many unanswered questions and uncertainty about the future. As a proud CWHL member I am certain we can use this news as an opportunity to push women’s hockey forward. Our goal was always to build a sustainable league where woman can play professionally for years to come. I hope this is the push women’s hockey needs to become something even bigger.”

While the future is slowly looking brighter for the future of professional women’s hockey continuing in Canada, it has become obvious that there are still hoops to jump through as the two sides seek to come to the best possible solution for all parties involved.

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While Tuesday’s news provided encouragement and reassurance about women’s hockey in Canada, there are still some voids left to work through as the two sides seek to come to a sensible agreement.

Until then, however, players turn their attention to the IIHF Women’s World Championship in Finland where Team Canada will open up Group A play as they take on Team Switzerland on Thursday morning.

While some of the CWHL’s best compete for the gold medal overseas in Espoo, the 10-team tournament can be seen at 9:00amET across TSN and on TSN GO.

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