BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The newly established Professional Women’s Hockey League has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to announce where its six franchises will be based, with Washington, D.C., Boston, Minneapolis and the New York City/New Jersey region in the mix of United States sites.
The PWHL has been four years in the making, and launched by the formation of the PWHPA in the aftermath of the CWHL folding in 2019. The PWHPA, made up of a majority of U.S. and Canadian national team members, balked at joining the rival PHF, which at that time was known as the National Women’s Hockey League, and has 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 franchise with each team preparing to open next season with a $1.5 million salary cap. PHF teams were based in Buffalo, Boston, Toronto and Montreal, along with East Rutherford, New Jersey; Hartford, Connecticut; and Richfield, Minnesota.
Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and London, Ontario, were among the Canadian sites considered, three people involved in the discussions told The Associated Press over the past week. The people spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because those conversations were private and no announcement had been made.
The eight potential sites were still being considered as of late last week. Among the priorities: Settling in markets that offer large enough arenas to host games as well as dedicated training facilities for each team.
The PWHL plans to launch play in January and is backed by Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and retired women’s tennis star Billie Jean King. The group is moving swiftly in essentially building a league from scratch, a process that was spurred in late June when Walter bought out the rival Premier Hockey Federation to clear the way for one North America professional women’s hockey league.
In that time, the new league has completed second interviews with a group of general manager finalists, who include former U.S. national women’s team captain Natalie Darwitz and former Swiss national team goalie Florence Schelling, one person said.
The new league will also announce it will be holding a player draft next month followed by a free agency signing period. Also discussed was the possibility of whether each team will have the opportunity before the draft to sign at least one — and perhaps more — exclusive rights’ player, two of the people said.
Two of the people told The AP the league’s schedule is expected to go as late as June, with the season overlapping the women’s world championships in April.
There is still much work to be done before training camps are scheduled to open by December, with coaching staffs needing to be hired and the league identifying broadcast partners.
In another development, a fourth person told The AP that former NHL executive Brian Burke has been hired to become the PWHL Players Association’s first executive director. Burke, who last served as the Pittsburgh Penguins president through April, has a lengthy track record of involvement with women’s hockey dating 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 takes over for Jayna Hefford, who previously served as the union’s chief consultant. Hefford had to step aside from her union duties because she is now part of the new league’s executive team.
The PWHPA instead chose to pursue its vision of having a controlling interest in a league with what it viewed as a more sustainable economic model and fair wages for players. The framework of that vision came together in May 2022 when the PWHPA formed a partnership with Walter and King.
The PWHPA in July unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2031 and features a salary range of $35,000 to $80,000 for players on active rosters. Rosters are expected to include 23 players.