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Breaking down the CWHL-NHLPA partnership

On Friday night, Brenda Andress casually let slip that the CWHL and NHLPA were partnering together. Here’s what that means for the CWHL.

Brenda Andress speaks before the 2017 CWHL Fantasy Draft. During her opening remarks, Andress announced that the NHLPA would be partnering with the CWHL.
Chris Tanouye/CWHL

There’s always something interesting that pops up at the CWHL All-Star game. Last year, the league announced their two-year partnership with the Ottawa Senators to host the Clarkson Cup Final at the Canadian Tire Centre.

This year, CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress casually mentioned that the league had partnered with the NHLPA during her opening remarks at the Frozen Fantasy Draft.

Andress wasn’t available for comment on the partnership immediately after the draft, but on Saturday, she spoke about what exactly the partnership entails during her pre-game media availability.

Growing the game

“The NHLPA, the NHL, and the three NHL teams and all our sponsors are just partnerships that we use to grow the game,” said Andress when asked about what the partnership entails. “We utilize them to make sure players and our players PA is communicating and growing the game together... we continue to talk to different groups in making this that our players have access to research, our players have access to contracts and different expertise.”

The league has a variety of different relationships with the NHL, individual NHL teams and now the NHLPA. The Calgary Inferno, Les Canadiennes de Montreal and the Toronto Furies all work together with their respective NHL teams, and the Senators joined that list last year when they hosted the Clarkson Cup at the Canadian Tire Centre. Those relationships, says Andress, are sponsorships with their teams, whereas this new development with the NHLPA is a partnership.

“It’s not really a sponsorship with the NHLPA, it’s a partnership. And that’s what we’ve always had with the NHL in the same way, we’ve been talking with them for the last 7-8 years,” said Andress. “The NHL has supported us in the same way, connecting us with the individual NHL teams, and those partnerships that we have, which ARE sponsorship partnerships, but the two are very different. It’s a way of us growing together. Those wheels have been created, and you want to utilize those wheels instead of reinventing them.”

That difference is very important when talking about what this partnership with the NHLPA actually means for the CWHL. While it’s a clear sign of the CWHL’s continued success as a league and their continuing relationship with the NHL (however tenuous that may be), it’s not quite as groundbreaking as it originally seemed.

All about the money

Mainly, Andress didn’t say whether the NHLPA would be contributing to the league financially. The NHL has made it clear in the past that it doesn’t want to jump in the middle of two leagues and would prefer to work with one. But financial support would have helped, especially because of the CWHL’s intention to pay their players next season. That’s still supposedly on target, but Andress wouldn’t confirm.

“I’ve always stated on record that we would follow our strategic plan and our strategic plan says that we will pay our players... So it’s always been our intention and it continues to be our intention,” said Andress. When asked if that meant paying them next year, she responded, “Well, that’s what the strategic plan says, but I think nobody here doesn’t know what the economy’s like right now, nobody knows...if I was a fortune teller, I wouldn’t be a commissioner.”

Players first

That being said, the NHLPA will still be able to help the CWHL in a variety of different ways, a couple of which Andress touched on during her availability.

“[The players] get the benefit of the research and the benefits of something that’s 100 years old, the pitfalls not to get into, some of the bumps and curves not to go down, so it’s really about giving access to our player’s PA to be able to partner with somebody who’s been there, done it, so we continue to make sure that we work together with our players [so] their needs are are first and foremost...we utilize those skills, we utilize their research in order to make sure as we move forward that the players are well-informed and that the players have access to what is best for them.”

If this partnership is executed the way that Andress describes, then this could be an excellent move by the CWHL. Providing players access to the NHLPA and individuals with a wealth of knowledge on contracts and advice on their professional hockey careers is a resource that could be essential to the players.

But that only matters if the players actually understand what they have access to. According to the players after the game on Sunday, they didn’t know about the partnership until Andress announced it. “We haven’t really heard much,” said Natalie Spooner. Meaghan Mikkelson chimed in, “We also found out yesterday, so it’s new but it’s very exciting.”

It’s also worth noting that the NHLPA hasn’t actually said anything about the partnership either. When Jen Neale of Puck Daddy reached out for comment, NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon stated, “We are looking forward to working with the CWHL as both organizations share a commitment to growing the game of hockey.”

How the partnership evolves down the road remains to be seen, but for now, it looks like a step in the right direction for the CWHL.