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A Comprehensive(ish) Women's Hockey Timeline

Here's what we know about the New Situation ... And What Comes Next

Seeing the transformation of a league you've covered since inception in real-time is incredibly odd. As one of the "old ladies" of women's hockey, I remember where I was when the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) folded in 2019, and I remember exactly how I felt -- but somehow, there's a level to this new development in the sport that I've never experienced. It was sudden, it was abrupt, and (speaking as someone who has grown to root for some teams and some players), it was painful.


So how did this happen? Why did it happen? And where do we go from here?

Some of these questions won't be answered in this piece simply because it's too soon to tell, and it might well be January by the time we get to fill in the gaps. But I'm going to try my best to provide a thorough account of what happened with the PHF and PWHPA and what we can expect going forward. This will supplement our live show on Monday evening, which will be available on YouTube, so please check that out for a full discussion.


Thursday evening, June 29, 2023


The first heads-up that something big was about to go down came from Jeff Marek and Dan Rice via Twitter.


Marek:

Rice:

Shortly after that, Marek confirmed the buyout by the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises, the ownership group for the PWHPA.

Ian Kennedy reported similar information in a newser for THN, while Rice and Allie Morse reacted in real-time via Twitter Spaces for their Around the Rink episode.

From there, information swirled from multiple accounts, including Shayna Goldman and Hailey Salvian, in addition to the reporters already mentioned. Salvian was among the first to report that the PWHPA members would be voting on a new CBA this weekend, with additional confirmation from others that PHF players would not be included in this ratification vote as they were not registered with the PWHPA.


For her part, Goldman tweeted about PHF players and agents who had been fighting against an "at-will" clause in contracts, which Marek then quote tweeted with essentially a confirmation of the clause. PHF players have also anonymously confirmed the presence of this type of clause in their contracts.

For those unaware, "at-will" employment allows employers to fire you at any time for any reason, as long as that reason does not violate any labor laws. Of course, that provision leads to a slippery slope that we are one hundred percent not going to get into here. At any rate, this revelation led to speculation by some fans and other reporters that union-busting might be at play, a possibility that I would like to stress does not have enough evidence behind it to be a for-sure type of concept. However, some information we'll go over later lends credence to this theory.


Goldman also had tweeted that PWHPA players would be given priority in the new league; however, Kennedy's reporting disputed this, including a quote from an unnamed source indicating a "process" would be put in place to ensure complete fairness in player selection.


Friday, June 30, 2023

Salvian's report from The Athletic went live in the early hours of the morning:

The Athletic article included the following details:

  • The PHF ceased all operations, and player contracts were to be voided

  • Players whose contracts were voided are to receive severance and "a period" of continued benefits (such as health insurance); no clarification on how long the period is to be

  • A new league, with six teams of 23 players each, is to launch in January 2024

  • The CBA PWHPA players are to vote on includes, among other things, salaries within a range of $35,000-80,000+ and full player benefits, including maternity and parental leave, relocation fees, and housing stipends. Again, those coming over from the PHF will not be able to vote on this agreement but will be included if they are to make a roster spot on a team in the new league.

Ian Kennedy made public a letter from Jayna Hefford to PW members regarding the acquisition and published information on The Hockey News relative to a letter former PHF commissioner Reagan Carey (reported to be part of the leadership for the new league) advising that an independent committee will be put in place to ensure players for the upcoming league will be selected fairly.


Erin Brown of THN also tweeted a thread illustrating her efforts to locate information related to a players' union reported to have been formed back in February.

Black Rosie Media founder and editor Erica L. Ayala wrote a piece for Forbes also detailing the information gathered thus far and providing the perspective of longtime PWHPA member Liz Knox, who stated the vote to ratify the CBA will not be paused to include PHF players "just because of new information we [the PWHPA] also just found out about."


Knox also had an interesting quote in the Forbes piece regarding the 100 or so PW members who "sacrificed the comfort of playing essentially in the PHF because they didn't want exactly this to happen because they believe that having a CBA in place which protects the future players of this professional league" was paramount.

The PHF and PWHPA also released statements of their own. It's worth noting that neither statement involved a mention of the 100-plus PHF players who have been thrust into uncertainty over this acquisition.


The PHF:


The PWHPA:

"The Professional Women's Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) was established in May of 2019 with the vision of establishing a sustainable and viable women's professional hockey league in North America. Our game doesn't move forward without the extensive commitment and sacrifice of our players who have remained united over the past four years and steadfast in the belief that we can change women's professional hockey for generations to come. We can't thank Mark and Kimbra Walter enough for believing in the PWHPA and their investment to build a league that the best players in the world can now call home.


"Our mission would not be possible without the support of our valued partners, fans, volunteers, advisors, and supporters who have been with us every step of the way.")


Saturday, July 1, and beyond


We received clarification on some initial info that has since been proven to be untrue as of July 1.

Information I've since been trying to confirm involves whether the contracts the new league is offering will be guaranteed. Reporting by others such as Kennedy has indicated that contracts on the PWHPA side have had similar at-will clauses, meaning if that trend continues, players will be agreeing to the prospect of not earning their full contract at the whim of their teams.



The Ice Garden released a podcast episode breaking down the news and some staff's concerns regarding what they would like to see. The episode featured site manager Mike Murphy alongside editor Meredith Foster and special guest (and former contributor) Anne Tokarski.


The latest is that PWHPA members are set to ratify a new CBA July 2 with their vote, which is an historic first step toward a new league.

Meanwhile, a coalition of some of the foremost leaders within the PHF, including legacy veterans such as Madison Packer, Jillian Dempsey, and Kaleigh Fratkin, released their own statement in conjunction with PR firm Athlete Strategies.

"In response to last week's acquisition, the players of the PHF have formed a player leadership committee comprised of 11 members, with each of our clubs represented. Our representatives are:

  • Jillian Dempsey (8 yr. veteran) and Allie Thunstrom of the Boston Pride

  • Dominique Kremer of the Buffalo Beauts

  • Kacey Bellamy and Kennedy Marchment of the Connecticut Whale

  • Madison Packer (8 yr. veteran), Kaleigh Fratkin (8 yr. veteran), and Katerina Mrazova of the Metropolitan Riveters

  • Sydney Brodt of the Minnesota Whitecaps

  • Ann-Sophie Bettez of the Montreal Force

  • Shiann Darkangelo of the Toronto Six

"Today, all women's hockey players are united stronger than ever as we enter this new era. While our player leadership committee may only officially represent the interests of the former PHF player pool, we join the table as teammates here to support the needs of all hockey players -- collaboratively building a product everyone can be proud of. We look to depart from the divisive narrative that too often plagued the many great achievements across professional women's hockey, and become unified as we collectively create hockey's future.

"As we embark on another league formation,we bring the power and the infrastructure we fought to build. We are hugely excited to see a unified league that will house all of the best athletes that hockey has to offer and aim to build the strongest league that can stand the test of time. The PWHPA was an incredible mirror that asked us to reflect on the changes we desired and fight for them in solidarity, and we will bring that momentum with us.


"We are empowered to be entering an environment that has a union and CBA that lays out a roadmap to continue to build on. That work in harmony with our new ownership group will be a great addition to the foundation that years of athletes within our league and before us in the NWHL, CWHL and WWHL have laid. Although this is the end of the PHF as we knew it, this evolution will never erase the tireless and thankless work of our athletes.


"This is a moment in a much larger movement that has hundreds and hundreds of names that will one day be enshrined in history. In the face of change, we choose to honor those builders and celebrate the future. We started this thing and we aren't done yet. Onwards and upwards, together."


On its face, this statement seems overall positive in light of the PHF ceasing operations, but even more questions have arisen that I hope we'll be able to address during the stream.


Please join us Monday at 6 p.m. EDT for a full discussion of everything that has happened and what we hope for out of the future.









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