Much Improved NWHL Draft Raises Many Questions

The 2018 NWHL Draft represented a change from past years as rather than doing it over the summer, the teams made their picks of college seniors in mid-December. This represents a dramatic departure from other leagues like the WNBA who does theirs a few weeks after the college season ends, and the NWHL which does theirs a month or so after the college season.

The results were interesting. The NWHL should be credited with a strong social media operation that was boosted by the college programs sharing the picks in real times as well. There are questions raised, not criticisms, but questions, about how this year went. It would be interesting to have answers.

The first big question relates to how the athletes themselves were aware of the picks and were able to comment. With the NCAA's often antiquated and inflexible rules, there is often a huge wall put up between athletes and professional leagues and such. In the 2016 NWHL Draft, NWHL general managers and coaches mentioned relying on college coaches for information and to advocate for the players. The strong impression then was that the league couldn't just ask players if they wanted to play in the next level. During an interview during the NWHL's second season, the Connecticut Whale's GM at the time, Lisa Giovanelli Zuba, said that the Whale could not do much promotion at college games due to NCAA rules. There was clear concerns over running afoul of them.

Fast forward to this year, and it looks like the league was able to have a lot more contact with the players. This was perhaps through coaches and athletic departments but it is unusual. It is not certain if this has happened in other sports. It would be very interesting to know the process especially involving players. The players knew before the draft they had been picked and were able to give statements.

That raises another question. Was the league able to find out beforehand if the players were even interested? Of the potential draft picks, were the teams able to make selections based on a pool of people they were interested, or did they have to draft and then reach out to find out? It is notable that of the NWHL Prospect Pipleine articles, many of the listed prospects did not get drafted and players that were not mentioned did. It would be fascinating to know what information the league office had prior to the draft, and in fact who did the outreach? Did Deputy Commissioner Hayley Moore make the connections or did individual teams contact programs? Additionally, would players have been able to indicate what teams they might want to go to? I wonder if there was a situation where a team drafted a player and the player wasn't interested. Before, teams might have to wait until after the season to find out, but this year it seems they could find out much sooner.

On that note, prior to 2017-2018, Moore had said in a conference call, that the league worked collaboratively with each team to make selections and free agency picks etc. This was in an era when no team had a GM except the Beauts who had just been purchased by the Pegulas. Did that trend continue into this year with the league working collaboratively? Also how did Nik Fattey and the Beauts operate since the team is independent of the NWHL ownership? It leads to a further question of whether the draft was even a straight up draft? Did all the stakeholders go into a room and compete for talent or was there a back and forth based on who might sign where, etc? Obviously the draft was not done in real time as the picks were announced, the league knew ahead of time.

Also along those lines, the college programs were at the ready to announce the picks as well, suggesting they were aware ahead of time and not just aware but ready to tweet and share. Did the league set up a draft period in consultation with all the programs to make sure everyone could be available to boost and amplify? This might explain placing the draft in the middle of weekdays rather than at night when most could follow along more easily.

A final question might be how much influence each coach had over the process. The Beauts are in transition with coaches though they have a GM so presumably Fattey made the personnel calls though, one would think an interim or future head coach would have preferred input. As for the Riveters, as many wonder if Randy Velischek, will have the tenure of a Trump cabinet member and soon depart, it is a legit question as to whether he is defining the future of the team or not.

The NWHL should be commended for realizing that the old draft process, which resulted in tons of misfires, was not working. They made changes to develop a better process. There are numerous legitimate critiques of the new formula to be sure (Meredith Foster's piece on this s excellent). this does represent a step in the right direction. Transparency as to how things went would be incredibly valuable to those that follow the process.