What does the new PWHL mean for women’s hockey? A guide for those who aren’t fans — yet | CBC News

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Monday is shaping up to be a historic day in Canadian hockey with the first draft of the brand new Professional Women’s Hockey League.

The league was formed over the summer with details announced Aug. 29. 

“We have never seen more excitement and demand for women’s sports, and through the launch of this league, the top women’s players in the world will have the opportunity to reach even greater heights,” said Jayna Hefford, PWHL senior vice-president of hockey operations, at the time. 

Interest in the women’s game is high.

Last year, 2.7 million people in Canada watched the the Olympic gold medal game in Beijing between the Canadian and U.S. women. And The Athletic reported that the game averaged 3.54 million viewers in the U.S., more than any NHL game televised in the U.S. in the 2021-22 season. 

A team of women wearing red Canada jerseys, celebrating the gold medals around their necks
The Canadian women’s hockey team’s gold medal victory was a high point of the Beijing Winter Games, with an audience of more than six million people in Canada and the U.S. (Elsa/Getty Images)

So how did we get here? And what could this mean for professional women’s teams going forward in terms of salaries, stability and coverage? 

Here’s a quick primer to get you up to speed, even if you’ve never hit the ice.

What is the PWHL?

The Professional Women’s Hockey League was created over the summer, after the Premier Hockey Federation,  another professional league for women’s hockey that started in 2015, was bought out in July. 

Things moved relatively quickly.

The new league was officially announced Aug. 29 after ratifying a collective bargaining agreement with the owners in early July. 

The league and its six teams are owned by Mark Walter, chair of the Los Angeles Dodgers and owner of the Mark Walter Group. Tennis legend Billie Jean King sits on the board. 

“To have the backing of people like that, that bring experience, that bring resources, that bring capital, that bring a commitment to doing it right at the ground level, that’s a difference maker,” said Hefford, also a former Canadian national team player, in an interview with the CBC’s Devin Heroux in late August. 

A white haired man and a dark haired woman with red glasses sit together at a table with a screen of sports logos in back of them and a microphone on the table
Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, left, and tennis champion Billie Jean King speak at a news conference in 2018. (Alex Gallardo/The Associated Press)

Longtime NHL exec Brian Burke, who also sat on the board of the former Canadian Women’s Hockey League (which folded in 2019) is heading up the PWHL players’ union. 

What cities will have teams? 

There are six teams, including three Canadian franchises: Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. 

The U.S. cities of Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the New York City area will also have teams in the inaugural season. 

The teams’ names have not yet been announced. 

WATCH | Jayna Hefford on why the PWHL matters to women’s sport and society: 

Jayna Hefford on what will make the PWHL different than previous pro women’s leagues

CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux sits down with the PWHL’s SVP of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford after their announcement of the founding six franchises.

Who’s on the teams? 

There will be a total of 150 players, mostly former Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and Premier Hockey Federation members, plus Europeans players from neither organization.

Each franchise has already signed three players, including women’s national team players Emily Clark and Brianne Jenner and Emerance Maschmeyer in Ottawa; Sarah Nurse, Blayre Turnbull and Renata Fast in Toronto; and Marie-Philip Poulin, Laura Stacey and Ann-Renée Desbiens in Montreal.

The first general draft will happen on Monday, Sept. 18 at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto, during which 90 players will be dispersed among the six franchises during a 15-round selection period.

Players not chosen in the draft will become free agents and be able to negotiate a try-out or a player contract with a team. 

Minnesota won the first overall pick in a lottery.

Watch | Hefford breaks down how the draft will work: 

Professional Women’s Hockey League prepares for free agency and draft in September

Professional Women’s Hockey League Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford spoke to the media as the PWHL announced its plans for an initial free agency period commencing September 1 and a draft on Sept. 18. The PWHL will have teams in Boston, Montreal, New York, Ottawa, Toronto and Minneapolis-St. Paul, and will play a 24-game regular season schedule.

How to watch the draft:

Live streaming coverage of the event will begin at 1 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

Coverage will also be available on radio-canada.ca/sports and the Radio-Canada info app, and on CBC Sports’ and Radio-Canada’s YouTube pages.

Hefford says in the past, women’s teams might have been put together based on where a player lived and what was convenient, but this is going to be about where they “best fit into a puzzle to win a championship.”   

A hockey player lifts up her arms in celebration.
Forward Marie-Philip Poulin is one of 9 players who signed with canadian teams ahead of the draft. She will play with Montreal. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

When does the season start?

Training camp starts the week of Nov.13, and the inaugural 24-game season starts in January. 

There will be a Championship Cup up for grabs, too. No name for it yet either. 

How can I watch? 

Broadcast and/or streaming deals are still being worked out but the league says it is aiming to make all the games available.

WATCH | Brian Burke makes a commitment to the women of the PWHL:  

PWHL Players’ Association executive director Brian Burke: ‘Most exciting day in history of women’s hockey’

Former NHL general manager Brian Burke spoke to the media after being named the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players’ Association executive director.

Other women’s hockey leagues have folded. What’s different this time? 

Hefford says she hopes the new league will “set the bar.”

She says the PWHL is looking to the WNBA and the National Women’s Soccer League and learning from their experiences about what has worked, and what has not.

“I really think we’re going to set the standard,” she said. “We have a group that’s behind this that is committed to so many things beyond just women’s hockey, but around equality and equal opportunity.”

Key this time, she says, is the collective bargaining agreement. 

“It provides certainty for the athletes. It provides certainty around working conditions, player safety, meals, housing. For the ownership group, it’s sustainability. It’s ensuring that we’re on a path to make this successful in the long term.

WATCH | Why experts say this league will be different from those that came before it: 

Women’s Professional Hockey League will launch with 3 Canadian teams

After years of back and forth, the Women’s Professional Hockey League has finally been established. Six teams in total — three of them in Canadian cities — will play a 24-game season expected to start in November.

Are the women being paid the same as NHL men? 

Not even close.

According to the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the minimum player salary for the 2022-23 season is $750,000 US.  But some of the league’s players make millions. 

The PWHL has said their players’ salaries will be $35,000 to $80,000 US, and that six players on each team will make no less than $80,000.

Brianne Jenner, who was on the Players Association bargaining committee, told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning they wanted to make sure there was “good parity” in the league and “a cap on how many players could be at the minimum.”

LISTEN | Why Brianne Jenner is optimistic about the league and women’s sport in general: 

Ottawa Morning7:59Brianne Jenner on joining Ottawa’s PWHL team

The Canadian Olympian shares her hopes for the Professional Women’s Hockey League and what it means to play for team Ottawa.

Asked what pay equity means to her, she admitted it’s a tough question. 

“I think we have a long way to go,” she said. “We recognize that our players are dedicating a lot of time, sacrificing as much as any male counterpart and putting, you know, the sweat equity into their work and the dedication into their work. So to see our sport have an opportunity where players can make a salary, a fair salary, is huge. And, you know, it’s just the beginning.” 

She added it’s on the players now “to build those fan bases, to attract those fans and to continue to excite investors, to become a part of our sport.”

WATCH | Why professional women still earn less than their male counterparts: 

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