The new Professional Women's Hockey League has a framework for its inaugural season and the six cities teams will play in when the pucks drop in January.
Still left to figure out? A logo, team names, a schedule and where players will end up. General managers also have to be chosen to run the Original Six of the fledging league.
Unlike the WNBA, which is run and financially backed by the NBA, the PWHL is not relying on the NHL for money. Instead, officials are consulting with the NHL, which has pledged its help.
“They have been fantastically supportive of us from the first minute that I spoke with Gary Bettman,” PWHL board member Stan Kasten said Tuesday, referring to the NHL commissioner. “All of their leadership has pitched in to help us. They understand it’s our league and we’re going to have to do this on our own and make our own decisions. But whenever we have had a question or a need, they have been right there to assist us, to give us advice, to make suggestions.”
For the first time, all the best women's hockey players in the world will be in the same league — something that took a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter and tennis icon Billie Jean King buying and dismantling the Professional Hockey Federation to resolve a longstanding rift in the sport.
Members of what was the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association, which included the vast majority of U.S. and Canadian national team players, figure to be the biggest stars. That includes American Hilary Knight, longtime Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin and many of their teammates who have been prominent parts of recent Olympics and world championships.
PWHL senior vice president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford said representatives from the PWHPA, PHF, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, the NCAA and others worked to come up with a player pool of about 300. Each team will have 23-player active rosters, which leads to roughly the top 140 players getting spots with a salary range of $35,000 to $80,000.
Former NHL executive Brian Burke takes over as the PWHL Players' Association executive director and said all players, whether they competed in the PHF or elsewhere, are welcome and will be treated the same.
WHERE WILL TEAMS PLAY?
The six teams will be based in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, the New York City area, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Venues are still being determined, as are team names.
“In this first year, we may have to make some compromises, in some cases a smaller building than we want by, say, a couple of thousand," said Kasten, the Dodgers president who’s running much of the operational side of the league. “And in some cases we have no choice but to play in bigger buildings than we would prefer. But that’s all part of this process of us of learning along the way.”
Neutral-site games are also in the cards, so teams aren't expected to play the 24-game season with 12 at home and 12 on the road. Kasten said the PWHL is working with the NHL to find places to play and grow the game beyond the six league markets.
Eventually, the league could expand to places like Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Buffalo, New York, places that either had a team previously or expressed interest.
“We know there’s a lot of excitement in other markets and other markets that will be successful in the future when we get to a point to expand,” Hefford said. “But right now it was really about finding the right markets, period, and that’s how we came to these six.”
HOW WILL PLAYERS BE PICKED?
Even before the teams have names, they'll have players. Beginning Friday and through Sept. 10, each team will be able to sign three free agents to build a foundation.
On Sept. 18, the PWHL will hold its first draft in Toronto: 15 rounds to get teams to 18 players each. Anyone who goes undrafted can then be signed, and teams must have at least 28 players in training camp whether under contract or on a tryout.
Players with extenuating circumstances limiting where they can play can apply for a waiver, part of the collective bargaining agreement Hefford said was important.
WHEN ARE GAMES HAPPENING?
That's not set yet, but Kasten said the season could open as soon as Jan. 1. The PWHL could in theory do something around the NHL's Winter Classic, which takes place New Year's Day in Seattle.
NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto in early February is also an event that could put a spotlight on the PWHL.
In future years, the league plans to have each team play 32 games beginning in November and going into the spring. It's 24 to start because of the time crunch, with play expected to go into June and the expectation for at least two rounds of playoffs.
WHO'S PAYING FOR THIS?
Walter and wife Kimbra are putting up the money for the PWHL. The league controls all six franchises, with no plans to sell any to individual owners right away, Kasten said.
Given the start-up costs — which Kasten wouldn't reveal — the first season or more is expected to put the league in the red. A 10-year business plan is already built to compensate for that, and the Walterses aren't concerned about the short term losses, Kasten said.
“We understand this is going to be expensive, particularly in the early years, but we’re prepared for that and we think of all of those amounts of money not as being expenses or losses,” Kasten said. “We think of them as investments in what we are building. We think this ultimately is going to be a very successful business, a worthwhile business.”
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