A lot has happened in the women’s hockey world in the last few days, and it doesn’t look like anything is going to slow down.
The CWHL folding on Sunday has started a domino effect in women’s hockey as roughly 150 players and the staff of the former six teams are left scrambling. Here’s a timeline of everything that’s happened this far:
Sunday, March 31
You may have already heard (honestly, if you haven’t, we’d be a little worried) about the CWHL’s sudden announcement that it will cease operations on May 1, 2019.
Nobody knew this was coming - not the players, not the team staff, and not the general managers, who were caught just as unaware as the fans were.
The CWHL’s interim commissioner Jayna Hefford and the Board of Governors got on a conference call with the CWHL’s general managers and players and broke the news that the CWHL was ceasing operations, effective May 1. Shortly after, the league put out a press release to the public.
You can read the CWHL’s release here, but here’s the most important part of the release:
“Unfortunately, while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable.
New management, led by Jayna Hefford, and the new Board, put in place in Summer & Fall 2018 respectively, have proactively worked with our contract staff, players, GM’s, industry partners and corporate sponsors to establish an adequate revenue base, good governance, and high-quality hockey on the ice. Unfortunately the business model that has been the foundation of the League is not sustainable financially.”
Players began responding on social, with some choosing to copy and paste the same response including the hashtag #NoLeague.
The players are tweeting the exact same language under the NoLeague hashtaghttps://t.co/9C2Jhf3nJP— Michelle Jay (@michelle_jay3) March 31, 2019
It’s important to note that the CWHL operated as a non-profit, as opposed to the NWHL’s for-profit model.
The timing of the release is also important - the announcement came exactly one week after the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup Final, where the Calgary Inferno won their second championship in franchise history. The news also broke four days before the start of the IIHF World Championships. Athletes representing four different countries (Canada, USA, Finland, and Japan) were informed on Sunday that they would not have a league to return to after they came back from the 10 day tournament.
Also important was that the Chair of the Board of Directors, Laurel Walzak, said that even if a financial benefactor emerged to save the CWHL, they would still move on with their original plan to discontinue operations.
As expected, there were quite a few responses to this unexpected announcement.
This weekend’s news that the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) has discontinued operations is disappointing for everyone involved in women’s hockey. The CWHL, its board of directors, team staffs and players across the league have worked tirelessly on and off the ice to grow the game. While the efforts of many strong women built the CWHL, we specifically acknowledge the dedication shown by Hockey Canada alumna Jayna Hefford in her work with the league. The loss of the CWHL is a void we hope will be filled so the next generation of young Canadian women will continue to be inspired by watching these incredible athletes compete at the highest level. Hockey Canada has a long history of working with its partners in developing women’s hockey, and we remain committed to doing so. We will continue to support Canada’s National Women’s Team and are open to working with other parties who share our passion in growing all levels of the women’s game.
The NWHL’s response:
All of us at the NWHL were very saddened to learn this morning that the CWHL is discontinuing operations. The CWHL was the first successful professional women’s hockey league in North America, and we have the deepest respect for all of the players and leaders who built the league.
We had an excellent meeting with the CWHL in January where we presented significant proposals to them about forming one league, and we agreed to meet again in April. We are sorry to know those talks will not continue. We wish the best to Jayna Hefford and everyone involved in the CWHL.
The NWHL wants to assure the players, fans, staff and supporters that our season is confirmed to start in October. As we have since our first season in 2015, we remain committed to building the value of women’s professional hockey players - not just in the US, but around the world.
The NHL’s response, per Emily Kaplan on Twitter:
“Our position on this has been consistent and remains the same. As long as elite women’s hockey players have professional opportunities, it is not an environment we are prepared to wade into in any formal way. We have always supported professional women’s hockey, and we plan to continue to do so. That doesn’t mean we need to form or directly subsidize an existing professional league.”
Also on Sunday, the NWHL disclosed to Hailey Salvian of The Athletic that the NWHL would “absolutely” be looking to add Canadian teams.
Sources exclusively told @TheAthleticNHL today the NWHL will be "absolutely" looking to add Canadian teams after the bombshell news today that the CWHL would cease to exist as of May 1.— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) April 1, 2019
Here is my story on what happened today, and what could come next:https://t.co/xAqsL4JEkD
Now where have we heard that one before....
~ it was a prophecy ~ pic.twitter.com/E0nNLcSHtW— Hannah Bevis (@Hannah_Bevis1) April 2, 2019
(The NWHL mysteriously showed this graphic after their first Isobel Cup Final broadcast. There was no further comment)
Monday, April 1
There wasn’t a ton more news on Monday. The Calgary Inferno held a press conference, and we recapped what we knew. Players were still shocked but seemed optimistic (although they kind of had to be).
"It's devastating news. You can't really sugar coat it, but we're choosing to be optimistic ... I'm confident that we can get something done because we have to. There has to be professional hockey up here in Canada." -@DakotaWoodworth pic.twitter.com/nHVD0LqRyA— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) April 1, 2019
Most CWHL general managers and players shared that sentiment - nobody really knew what the future held, but they were determined to make sure there was still pro hockey in Canada.
Tuesday, April 2
And you thought the breaking news was over.
On Tuesday, the NWHL held a conference call with media where it made several announcements:
- The NWHL plans to play a 24-game season next year
- There will be no restricted free agency in the offseason
- And oh yeah, the NWHL Board approved investment in two teams in Canada in the Toronto and Montreal market; the NWHL expects to have two teams there in the fall./
Also big news was that the NHL had upped its contribution to the NWHL; Pierre Lebrun tweeted out that the NHL was now paying the NWHL $100,000.
The NHL is going from paying $50k to each women’s league to now paying $100k for the one league remaining, according to a source https://t.co/doMNSEI02m— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 2, 2019
Later that evening, the (former) CWHL general managers issued a joint statement. In part it reads, “There are currently no negotiations occurring between any former CWHL teams and the NWHL.”
Friday, April 5
Two new reports dropped into the public sphere.
The first draws on the past. Former CWHL investor and Board member Graeme Roustan wants the current board to step down and be replaced by himself and another board. The second is that the NHL gave an additional $100,000 to cover the league’s final payments.
This story is ongoing and we’ll be updating it accordingly.