NWHL puts expansion to Toronto and Montreal on hold

The National Women’s Hockey League cancelled plans to add teams in Toronto and Montreal for the 2019-20 season — at least for now — while making it clear that it is open to discussing the formation of a new league.

The NWHL stated in a Thursday post on its website — titled We’ll Always Do What’s Best for the Game — that league officials would be happy to talk.

“If any individuals or groups come forward and declare they are ready to start and invest in a new league where women can receive a substantial full-time salary and medical insurance, we would be ecstatic to have a conversation about a partnership or passing the torch,” the league wrote.

More than 200 of the world’s top female players announced May 2 that they will not play professional hockey in North America at all this year in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league. They also formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association earlier this month.

The NWHL plans to open its season in October with five returning teams — the Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beauts, Metropolitan Riveters and Minnesota Whitecaps — but adding to that total will remain an option for a few more weeks.

Kim Pegula and Pegula Sports gave back ownership of the Beauts to the NWHL earlier this month. Last week, the NWHL announced increased salaries and a 50/50 split of sponsor-related revenues and improved benefits in an agreement reached with its players’ union.

Once the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced it would be ceasing operations May 1 because of financial issues, NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan told The Associated Press that the league’s board had approved an investment plan to establish teams in Toronto and Montreal.

On Thursday, the NWHL said expansion in time for next season will remain an “open-ended question” for a few more weeks.

“We are exploring all options to build our league,” according to the NWHL, adding that the league had secured the investment needed to add at least two teams.

“To expand properly, as we did in Minnesota, time, co-operation and preparation is required,” according to the NWHL post. “We would love to have more teams in 2019-20 and will make it happen if there is a spirit of partnership from all sides. Unless there is a change of heart soon, we will revisit expansion for the 2020-21 season.”

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