“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for — our moment to come together and say we deserve more,” the group wrote in a statement issued Thursday. “It’s time for a long-term viable professional league that will showcase the greatest product of women’s professional hockey in the world.”
While the statement doesn’t mention any leagues by name, it has major implications for the National Women’s Hockey League, the lone surviving top-level outfit in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded last month. The group said it would not play for any North American leagues this season “until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”
“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game,” the players said, noting the lack of health insurance and salaries that can be as low as $2,000 per season for some players.
“I mean, we have women who have to work full-time jobs in order to play professional hockey,” Meghan Duggan, a three-time Olympian for the U.S. national team, said in an interview. “We, as players, think that the players and the sport deserve more. We have faith there’s a partner who’s going to step up and see the players’ true value.”
The players’ statement was shared on social media Thursday by dozens of the top North American players, including American stars Hilary Knight, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.
The six-team CWHL announced last month that it was closing up shop, leaving dozens of players suddenly without jobs and no professional hockey outlet. Their only other North American option is the U.S.-based NWHL. That league is set to begin play with five teams this season in cities such as Boston, Buffalo and Saint Paul, Minn., with plans to soon add two expansion teams in Canada. Some of the teams have established partnerships with the NHL squads in their respective cities, and the women’s league has sought to bolster its relationships with the world’s top men’s league.
Still, many of the top women’s players have been hesitant to make the jump. Some, such as Knight, have previously played in the NWHL and have serious concerns about the league’s operations and finances. In a statement Thursday afternoon, NWHL officials said they intend to begin their new season in October, despite the promised boycott, and are open to discussions with the players. The league said it intends to offer increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue split from sponsorship and media rights deals.
“In a challenging climate for women’s sports, our leadership has been proud to invest a great deal of time and resources in women’s hockey and these athletes,” the NWHL leaders said. “We believe in them.”
The sweeping statement from players surely will grab the attention of NHL executives, who must decide what role, if any, they want to play in the future of the women’s game. The NHL has expressed concerns in the past with the financial viability of existing leagues. Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said the league has “frequently been in communication with all of the relevant stakeholders regarding ways to grow the sport as a whole, and particularly as it relates to Women’s Hockey.”
“We have not been involved at all in this most recent development and we will need some time to better understand what the full picture and implications look like,” Daly said in an email Thursday. “We certainly support the objective — of both the NWHL and the elite Women Players — of allowing for the opportunity of women hockey players to play the sport at the professional level.”
The women’s players certainly see the NHL as one option to help grow and bolster the professional game, but Duggan said Thursday’s statement wasn’t aimed solely at the top men’s league.
“I think if opportunity presents itself for them to step in, I trust they have a vision for women’s hockey. But we have faith there will be a partner who sees the players’ value, whoever that is,” she said. “We’re going to work towards one viable league in North America, and we’ll consider any proposal that can do that.”
While the NWHL aimed to capitalize on the Canadian league’s folding, quickly announcing expansion teams in Toronto and Montreal last month, many North American players found themselves at a crossroads. Players from the two countries — intense rivals on the ice — have been in discussions about using their collective influence to force a more viable professional option.
By banding together, the players sought to create some leverage. The U.S. players similarly formed a unified front in their contract battle with USA Hockey in 2017, threatening to boycott the world championships if salaries and support didn’t improve. They ultimately struck a favorable deal with the organization and went on to win the world title and also claimed gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
This latest effort might mean some of the world’s top players are sidelined for the upcoming season — at least in the United States — but they hope better opportunities are on the horizon.
“Would it be easier to just continue to play and go along with the charade of right now and the status quo? Absolutely,” Duggan said. “By coming together and not playing and taking a stand, I think it shows that players feel the sport deserves more and we all want to find a way to get us there.”