More than 200 women’s hockey players reaffirmed Monday that they intend to sit out the upcoming professional season, restating that position while announcing they have formed a new players’ union.
That doesn’t mean the show will not go on.
The National Women’s Hockey League, the only current option for women’s pro players, issued two news releases Monday that confirmed its intent to keep playing. The United States-based league announced the first two player signings for the 2019-20 season and reiterated its plan to increase its schedule to 24 games. NWHL veterans Madison Packer and Kaleigh Fratkin re-signed with the Metropolitan Riveters and Boston Pride, and both made statements supporting the league.
The signings, and the creation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, highlighted the developing split in the women’s pro hockey ranks. Many of the world’s best players have said they will not play next season, rejecting the NWHL as they push for better pay and benefits. Other players, though, believe in the league and are sticking by it.
“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,” Packer said in the league’s announcement of her signing. “It’s important to build off the momentum created by the league’s success last season.”
The Minnesota Whitecaps won the NWHL championship in March in their first season as a league member. Co-coach and General Manager Jack Brodt referred questions about the NWHL’s future to league officials, who declined to comment beyond Monday’s news releases.
Women’s hockey had two pro leagues until earlier this month, when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded. After its collapse, many of the sport’s biggest names issued a statement saying they would not play professionally until they got “the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.” Some have lingering mistrust of the NWHL after that league cut salaries in half during its second season.
The new players’ association said its members want a pro league that will provide “financial and infrastructure resources” and health insurance; support players’ “rights and talents”; and work with corporations, business leaders and sports figures who champion women’s pro hockey. It also wants support to develop young players.
“It is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” said Kendall Coyne Schofield, a U.S. Olympic gold medalist who played for the Whitecaps last season. “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.”
The PWHPA website said it will help players from the U.S., Canada and Europe coordinate training opportunities and develop sponsor support.
“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,” said Shannon Szabados, an Olympic gold medalist from Canada who played for the NWHL’s Buffalo franchise last year. “We know we can make this work, and we want the chance to try.”
In announcing the signings of Packer and Fratkin, the NWHL made clear it is forging ahead. League officials, who had not publicly revealed player salaries in the past three years, announced that Packer will make $12,000 and Fratkin will be paid $11,000.
The NWHL previously said salaries would rise this season. It also unveiled a new revenue-sharing plan, which will pay players 50% of all revenue from league-level sponsorship and media deals in addition to salaries. Players will continue to receive 15% of revenue from apparel with their name on it.
“It’s easy for me to stand up for the NWHL because it has done a lot for our sport and provided many opportunities for me personally,” said Fratkin, a five-year NWHL veteran who played at Boston University. “What makes me want to come back to the NWHL for another season is the excitement of the fans and how much growth and success the league has had in the last couple of years.”
Monday’s announcements came a few days after the New Jersey Devils ended their partnership with the Riveters, becoming the second NHL team to dissolve an affiliation with an NWHL team. The owners of the Buffalo Sabres said earlier this month they would return control of the Buffalo Beauts to the NWHL, 17 months after they bought the team.