Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa were announced as franchises in the newly named Professional Women’s Hockey League | CBC sports

Three Canadian franchises are part of the newly named Professional Women's Hockey League, which announced details of where and how it will begin playing in January 2024.

Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa join the franchises in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the New York area in a 24-game schedule. Players will be assigned to these cities during a September free agency period, followed by a draft.

“Today we see a phenomenal future for PWHL,” said Jayna Hefford, a former Canada international and PWHL's senior vice president of hockey operations. “We have never seen greater excitement and demand for women's sport and the launch of this league will give the world's best players the opportunity to reach even greater heights.”

Teams will begin creating their rosters with a 10-day free agency period from September 1-10, followed by a draft on September 18.

The league is coming together quickly after members of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA) ratified a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with owners in July.

The draft and free agency selection pool includes PWHPA members in addition to former Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) players. However, current and graduating NCAA and U-Sports players – like Canadian star Sarah Fillier – can only be won via the 15-round draft.

Teams are only allowed to sign three players in free agency. The first round draft order is determined by a lottery, while subsequent rounds follow a queue format.

Long way to the 1st league

Along with the ratification of the CBA, Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, one of the new league's financiers, bought out and dissolved the PHF, a rival club with seven franchises whose salary cap will be increased to US$1.5 million this year -Dollar should be raised next season.

Formed after the collapse of the Canadian Women's Hockey League in 2019, the PWHPA includes nearly all members of the North American national team.

For the past four years, the union has fought for a sustainable professional league with all the trimmings that befit the best players in the world.

The PWHL promises to ensure this.

Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin told CBC Sports in April that while the league would be heavily promoted, the league would not be possible without extensive collective cohesion.

“The group I've been with for the past few years is the best and for me I'm just trying to follow them. … When you surround yourself with strong people, it's easy to look good,” said Poulin.

Since 2019, the PWHPA has opposed potential mergers with the PHF despite much debate and urging from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Instead, PWHPA players took part in the Dream Gap Tour, a fast-paced series of weekend events funded in part by corporate sponsors.

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PHF breakdown

At the same time, the PHF grew steadily. In addition to the rapidly rising salary cap, the league began poaching players from the PWHPA and abroad, including young Swiss star player Alina Muller and four-time Olympic goaltender Noora Raty of Finland, who has signed with the Metropolitan Riveters. Recently retired American star player Brianna Decker and Canadian Hall of Famers Angela James and Geraldine Heaney have held coaching and management roles.

But in one fell swoop, the league ceased to exist in July, taking most of its members by surprise with a Thursday night Zoom call.

“At first I honestly thought it was a dream because I had no idea what was going on. But then, after a few more calls, I realized, ‘Oh crap, no, that's real and so is the PHF.' “It's not a thing anymore,” Buffalo Beauts forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis recalled to CBC Sports.

Reportedly, player salaries in the new league will range from $35,000 to $80,000, a slight step backwards from what PHF players should be earning. Six players on each of the six teams will be awarded three-year contracts worth “not less than $80,000 per league year,” Tuesday's press release said.

However, the collective agreement includes health insurance, a pension scheme, commercial rights, maternity leave and much more.

CBA essential

Nurse told the Canadian Press after the CBA was announced in July that the document was “the most important thing” in the formation of the new league.

“In my professional playing career I've seen some leagues come and go due to the lack of player protection and communication between the league and the union,” she said.

In a further development, multiple reports stated that former NHL manager Brian Burke was 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 CWHL board member. The Hockey News first reported on Burke's hiring.

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.

Several PWHPA players told CBC Sports at April's World Championships in Brampton, Ontario that they hoped a pro title would achieve the same status as international gold.

The 2024 World Championships will be held April 4-14 in Utica, NY. The USA are the reigning champions after beating Canada 6-3 in the gold medal game.

“That is the goal. That is definitely the goal. One day we will reach it. Of course, it will still be an honor to always represent your country, but that will be really important, the next step,” the Canadian told defender Renata Fast.

Tuesday's announcement is one step closer to that goal.

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