PWHL Draft Marks a New Day for Women's Hockey
It’s a historic day for women’s hockey.
After a whirlwind month in which the formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey League was announced, the cities hosting franchises were made public, general managers and coaches were named and a free-agency signing period was held, the rosters will continue to be filled Monday when the inaugural PWHL draft is held in Toronto.
The draft, which will feature the league’s original-six franchises drafting 15 players each, gets underway at 1 p.m. EDT in Toronto.
The whirlwind really began in late June when the Mark Walter Group, after signing a letter of intent to unify women’s professional hockey with Billie Jean King Enterprises and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), purchased the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), formerly the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), to pave the way for the creation of one women’s professional hockey league.
The PWHPA had offered an opportunity for many of the top women’s hockey players in the world to play in a professional barnstorming-style league for several years, while the NWHL recently had changed its name to PHF and nearly doubled its salary cap to $1.5 million per team as a continuation of the league’s 900-percent salary growth since 2021.
With the PWHPA providing an opportunity for top players to play in front of fans around North America, thus generating increased interest in the sport, and the PHF making it financially viable for more players to make the commitment to play professionally, the time had come for the competing leagues to unify in hopes of providing the first truly sustainable women’s professional hockey league in North America.
The new league announced that it would be called the PWHL in late August as well as the number of teams, host cities and format for the inaugural season, which will start in January 2024.
The six-team circuit includes three United States-based teams – in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the New York metropolitan area – as well as Canadian teams in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. The teams will play a 24-game schedule in 2024 that will run from January through May with a break in April for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship and playoffs following the season. There are plans to expand the schedule to at least 32 games and begin play in November for the 2024 season.
Games initially will be played in a variety of venues, ranging from NHL-quality facilities to minor-league and junior-hockey arenas. It’s possible that some of a team’s 12 home games may not all be played in the same venue as the league determines the optimal locations based on attendance, fan interest and other factors.
Immediately following that August announcement, a 10-day free-agency period opened on Sept. 1 during which each team was allowed to sign three “foundational players” that were not currently members of NCAA or Canadian U Sports programs. In conjunction with the free-agency period, general managers officially were named Sept. 1 and head coaches were announced a few days ago in preparation for the Sept. 18 draft.
Players were required to declare themselves eligible for the draft by Sept, 3, and a pool of 268 players is eligible to be selected.
Minnesota holds the first pick, followed by Toronto, Boston, New York, Ottawa and Montreal. The draft will follow a “snake” format in which the team picking last in one round goes first in the following round.
Training camps open Nov. 13, with each team being required to bring in 28 players and have 20 players signed to contracts by the time camp opens. A collecting-bargaining agreement that was ratified by the PWHPA stipulates that player annual salaries will range from $35,000 to $80,000. Most contracts will be one or two years in duration, but each franchise is required to sign six players for three years at a salary of $80,000 per year.
The league financed by business and philanthropic leaders Mark and Kimbra Walter – Mark Walter also is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers – and is led by a Board of Directors that includes sports King, sports executive Ilana Kloss, Dodgers President Stan Kasten and Dodgers Senior Vice President of Business Strategy Royce Cohen. Jayna Hefford is the league’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.
Each team has a salary cap of $1.265 million, and thus far the teams have signed the following world-class and international star players:
PWHL Free-Agent Signings
Lee Stecklein, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Kelly Pannek
Sarah Nurse, Blayre Turnbell, Renata Fast
Aerin Frankel, Megan Keller, Hilary Knight
Alex Carpenter, Abby Roque, Micah Zander-Hart
Brianne Jenner, Emily Clark, Emerance Maschmeyer
Marie-Philip Poulin, Laura Stacey, Ann-Renée Desbiens
PWHL General Managers
PWHL Head Coaches
PWHL Draft Coverage
The draft will be covered via live stream beginning at 1 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. It is also available on radio-canada.ca/sports and the Radio-Canada info app, and for international audiences on CBC Sports' and Radio-Canada's YouTube pages.
The first pick is scheduled to be announced at approximately1:25 p.m.