BUFFALO, NY (AP) – The newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League scheduled a press conference Tuesday to announce where its six franchises will be based: Washington, DC, Boston, Minneapolis and the New York City/New Area Jersey mix of US locations.
The PWHL lasted four years and was created by the formation of the PWHPA following the collapse of the CWHL in 2019. The PWHPA, which is majority-consisted of members of the United States and Canada national teams, was reluctant to affiliate with the rival PHF, then known as the National Women’s Hockey League, which also included the Buffalo Beauts franchise.
The NWHL began as a four-team league and launched in 2015 as North America’s first women’s hockey league to pay players a salary. The PHF grew to seven franchises, with each team preparing to open the next season with a $1.5 million salary cap. PHF teams were based in Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal, and in East Rutherford, New Jersey; Hartford, Connecticut; and Richfield, Minnesota.
Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and London, Ontario were among the Canadian locations under consideration, three people involved in the discussions told The Associated Press last week. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as those conversations were private and no announcement had been made.
The eight potential locations were still under review at the end of last week. Priorities include: Locating in markets that offer large enough arenas to host games and dedicated training facilities for each team.
The PWHL plans to start playing in January and will be supported by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and retired women’s tennis star Billie Jean King. The group is moving forward at a brisk pace, essentially building a league from the ground up, a process that was pushed forward in late June Walter bought out rival Premier Hockey Federation to clear the way a women’s professional hockey league in North America.
During that time, the new league has conducted second interviews with a group of general manager finalists that include former United States women’s national team captain Natalie Darwitz and former Switzerland national team goalkeeper Florence Schelling, one person said.
The new league will also announce that it will hold a player draft next month, followed by a free agency contract signing phase. Also discussed was the possibility of each team having the ability to sign at least one — and maybe more — exclusive players before the draft, two of the people said.
Two of the people told the AP the league’s fixture schedule is unlikely to start until June due to the season overlapping with the Women’s World Cup in April.
There is still a lot to do before the training camps can open in December. Coaching staffs need to be hired and the league needs to identify broadcast partners.
In a further development, a fourth person told the AP that former NHL manager Brian Burke has been hired as the PWHL Players Association’s first executive director. Burke, who was most recently president of the Pittsburgh Penguins until April, has a long track record of involvement in women’s hockey dating back to 2013 when he was a board member of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Burke has a law degree from Harvard and is succeeding Jayna Hefford, who previously served as the union’s chief counsel. Hefford has had to step down from her union duties as she is now part of the new league’s leadership team.
The PWHPA instead chose to pursue their vision of a majority stake in a league with what they believe to be a more sustainable economic model and fair wages for players. The framework of this vision emerged in May 2022 when the PWHPA partnered with Walter and King.
The PWHPA in July unanimously ratified a collective agreement which runs until 2031 and offers a salary range of $35,000 to $80,000 for players on active rosters. Squads are expected to feature 23 players.