More than 200 women’s hockey players — including Team USA stars Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Canada’s Marie Philip-Poulin — have announced they will not be playing in a professional league next season.
“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game,” said the statement, released by individual players on social media Thursday. “Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”
— Hilary Knight (@HilaryKnight) May 2, 2019
Many players have gone on the record to say they want the NHL to support a women’s league with financial and infrastructural resources, and sources told ESPN that the players hope the joint announcement could apply pressure on the NHL to act.
The NWHL is the only remaining professional women’s hockey league in North America.
“We have all accomplished so much, there is no greater accomplishment than what we have the potential to do right here and right now — not just for this generation of players, but for the generations to come,” the players’ statement read. “With that purpose, we are coming together, not just as individual players, but as one collective voice to help a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game.”
There has been uncertainty clouding the women’s hockey landscape since the Canadian-based CWHL made a shocking decision to fold after the 2018-19 season. The CWHL said in a statement that “while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable.”
Ever since the U.S.-based NWHL debuted four years ago, there had been calls to merge the two leagues. Players were upset that resources were fragmented and they believe there isn’t a big enough talent pool to support two leagues at this time. What’s more, the low pay in each league means players have to juggle other full-time jobs and the travel itineraries are less than ideal.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has gone on the record several times to say he didn’t want to intervene with either league as long as they both existed in their current states — mainly because the league didn’t want to look like it was choosing sides, or swooping in as a “big brother” to save the day, according to NHL sources.
“As long as elite women hockey players have professional opportunities, it is not an environment we are prepared to wade into in any formal way,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN when the CWHL folded, leaving only one league. “We have always supported professional women’s hockey, and we plan to continue to do so. That doesn’t mean we need to form or directly subsidize and existing professional league.”
The NHL previously gave $50,000 contributions to each league. When the CWHL folded, the NHL upped its contributions to the NWHL to $100,000.
Dani Rylan, the founder and commissioner of the NWHL, said the 2018-19 season was one of growth. Rylan says she wants to expand the league next season with franchises in Montreal and Toronto, though no formal details have been announced.
The 2019 NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville drew 6,200 — the largest crowd for a pro women’s hockey game in the United States. Combined, the skills challenge and All-Star Game generated more than a million viewers on Twitter. And in their first NWHL season as the league’s first expansion team, the Minnesota Whitecaps sold out every home game — TRIA Rink in Saint Paul has a capacity of 1,200.
The NWHL does not disclose any information about its budget or revenue. Only some of the investors are made public. That has been a point of contention for the NWHLPA, especially in contract negotiations, in which it wanted to know how the league arrived at $100,000 for the salary cap.
Rylan told ESPN in April that she expects player salaries to grow for next season. The NWHL had a salary cap of $100,000 last season, with the lowest-paid player making $2,500 for the season.
“We have two different business models,” Rylan said when asked why the NWHL would succeed when the CWHL couldn’t. “We are for profit. We have the flexibility to sell our assets, whether it’s at the league level or the team level, and I think that’s fundamentally the biggest difference.”