With a longstanding feud in women's professional hockey now settled, a new league featuring many of the best players in the world is poised to move forward in January. The first home cities and other details were announced on Tuesday.
The six teams in the new Professional Women's Hockey League will be split evenly between the United States and Canada, with teams based in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, the New York, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto metropolitan areas. The team nicknames and arenas need to be set.
“It's been a long and arduous journey to get here,” said Jayna Hefford, Canada's five-time Olympian and senior vice president of ice hockey operations for the new league.
The top women's ice hockey league from 2015 to 2023 was the Premier Hockey Federation, originally called the National Women's Hockey League. It has struggled to match the level of success of other top professional leagues for both men and women in North America. Low salaries meant that players often had to take part-time jobs and television coverage was not a big deal.
Dissatisfied with the league's progress, members of the players' union, the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association, boycotted the league beginning with the 2019–20 season. The hundreds of players who took part in the strike included almost every top name on the American and Canadian Olympic teams. That left second-tier players in the women's league and few of the names fans might have been familiar with.
The players' union thought about creating their own league and the teams they put together played exciting matches in the two countries in competition with the PHF
The PHF made strides and raised their salary cap $750,000 per team in its last season and lures a few players back. But the vast majority of them never rejoined.
In June, the union and the PHF agreed to a merger with the intention of creating a new league owned by the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises. The players have ratified a collective bargaining agreement for the future and all PHF contracts have been voided.
Each team in the new league can sign three players as free agents before a 15-round draft on September 18. The final rosters will include 23 active players. The league states that six players on each team receive three-year contracts of at least $80,000 per year, while most other players receive one- or two-year contracts.
In the first season, each team will play 24 regular-season games starting in January 2024. The league says subsequent seasons will begin in November and will span 32 games. Expansion is also possible in the future, it said.
In its final season, the PHF had teams in Boston; Buffalo; Simsbury, Connecticut; East Rutherford, NJ; Richfield, Minnesota; Montréal; and Toronto. As the new league begins, Buffalo and Connecticut lose teams while Ottawa gains one.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said his league was unwilling to get involved in women's hockey while the split lasted. Stan Kasten, the president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sits on the new league's board of directors, said the NHL has offered advice.
“The NHL has been fantastic in supporting us,” he said.
The NHL will work with the new league to host games at neutral locations in both NHL and non-NHL cities outside of the six home locations.
“No fan owes us their time or their money,” said Kasten. “It's up to us to earn it.”