With the PWHL rosters set and the PWHL season opener upon us, we’ve asked some TIG authors what they think of each team and the outcome of the league’s inaugural season. (Ed. Note: This roundtable was put together prior to the start of the regular season.)
Give one word that you think describes each team's composition.
Geremy: One word per a team? And I thought 30 seconds to give a HHOF case for Florence Schelling wasn’t a lot. Toronto would be traditional. If there was a hockey handbook on how to build a team, Toronto followed it. New York is punishing. They have a roster containing quite a few players that can play a physical game. For Montréal it has to be analytical. There was obviously an analytics approach to building the team and I love it. Does any word but superstars work for Boston? They have to have the most recognized names in the league. United I think is what best describes Ottawa. They have the most nationalities on their team and are being coached by Carla McLeod who has coached in Czechia, Canada, and Japan. Last but not least is Minnesota who I’d have to say would be ominous. They’re out on an island geographically and don’t have the same benefits of the women’s hockey media being in their area. However they’ve built a team that should not be underestimated.
Maya: One word? Damn okay. This is going to make it very clear that I haven’t looked at any of the US rosters oops.
Angelica: Y'all know one word is difficult for me, right? *Sigh* okay, here goes.
Who do you think ends up being the league MVP?
Geremy: Could throw a dart at all the rosters and have a decent chance at hitting the future league MVP. Easy answer is Marie-Philip Poulin so I’m going to avoid that and take someone I think is looking like they’re ready to break out in a big way on an exciting team: Jessie Eldridge. Had a fantastic season in the PWHPA last year and was huge in the PWHL preseason.
Michelle: It depends on how it’s decided, I think. The big question with MVP voting is always, was it the best player full stop or the player who a team couldn’t live without?
Maya: I definitely wouldn’t want to be the person who has to make this decision. This league is stacked. I’m going to break the rules and pick one from the US teams and one from the Canadian teams. Heise is my pick for the US side. First overall pick, she’s gotta be good. And then for Canada, I think Shiga from Ottawa. Watching her play in training camp was life-changing for me.
Mike: Poulin. Heise. Müller. I can’t pick against Poulin. She’s the best on the planet and makes everyone around her better. I would love to see Heise shine as the top pick, though.
Angelica: It's easy to point to MPP as the undisputed MVP, since it really seems like she isn't slowing down any time soon. Still, I'd like to go out on a limb here and select a goalie – Corinne Schroeder for NY. I vote for MVP along the lines of what a player adds to a team, and a player like Schroeder who is athletic, strong, skilled, and can withstand a heavy workload adds value in spades to a team like New York – and it can mean a big difference once postseason comes around. I also like Jessie Eldridge for New York – she was huge during camp and I think she can really surprise some people who might not have heard her name prior.
Carlie: I think Corinne Schroeder is going to get a lot of MVP credit for New York’s success this year, especially if they end up being good and if she ends up bailing them out of some tight games like I think she will. I think Poulin is going to be in the MVP conversation as she always is, but I think if she takes more of a play-making role with MTL, she could get lost on the conversation. The same goes for Müller, who had that exact issue at Northeastern.
Below is a chart compiling each writer’s votes for MVP.
Which team do you feel has the best depth?
Geremy: There was so much talent available in the draft that best depth really just comes down to personal preference in which for me I’d say New York. I’m a big believer in defensive depth and do they ever have it. Their top 4 defenders are going to be able to move the puck better than probably every other team in the league. Then at forward it’s just going to be a wave of big, skilled players crashing into the offensive zone shift after shift. They just have so many options to create a very balanced but dangerous top 9.
Maya: This may be biased (but I’m a content creator, not a journalist so it’s okay), but I think Ottawa. On forward, they’ve got Shiga, Grant-Mentis, Clark, Jenner, Watts, so many top players from the PHL, PWHPA, National Teams and Collegiate hockey. On defense, Tejralová, Bell and Harmon are solid. This might be their weakspot. But then they have one of the best goalies in the world between the pipes in Maschmeyer. As long as she stays healthy, I think they are solid.
Mike: Montréal. I love the way the team was built and all the value they found in the draft. I just don’t see a weakness on that squad. I also love New York’s depth.
Angelica: Montréal is just absolutely stacked. I’ve gone through the rosters multiple times and I marvel each time at the skill in all three zones. The balance of talent and grit, mixed with what I saw of them in Utica, makes this a team to watch out for.
Carlie: Montréal by a mile. You can see Mikael Nahabedian’s touch in how they built out depth at every position, agnostic to which league they came from.
And which do you feel has the best top end talent?
Geremy: Mentioned up top and I’ll say it again, Boston. Alina Müller, Sophie Jaques, Megan Keller, Loren Gabel, Aerin Frankel. You can argue Hilary Knight too if you want. All in the elite percentile of their positions. There’s really no other team in the PWHL that can just throw that type of firepower out at you and be supported by a goalie like Aerin Frankel. If the rest of the team can just play average, those five will be able to carry the team to victory and could be a deciding factor.
Michelle: Not to copy Geremy but Boston for all the reasons he said.
Maya: Can’t argue with Geremy. Boston has so many star players up front. Knight, Müller, Rattray, Jacques, Keller, Frankel… what more can you say?
Mike: The best starting six in the league is probably Boston or Montréal but the edge goes to Boston. I’d like to be different and go in a different direction but I’d take that Boston starting six over Montréal's both now and three years from now.
Angelica: Mike didn't want to be different, so I will: Montréal. I just can't get over the forward depth, and it's hard to overlook a rock like Ann-Renée Desbiens in net either. When you list off a wealth of forwards and forget Kennedy Marchment because there are just so many to point out on one roster… sorry, I'll be the contrarian here.
Carlie: Montréal. A team that’s putting MPP, Maureen Murphy, Jillian Dempsey, Kristin O’Niell, etc. in their top 6 is going to bowl over their opposition, not even thinking of Elaine Chuli and Ann-Renée Desbiens backstopping their net.
Teams are carrying a mix of players on their reserve list. Who do you think has the right balance of forwards, defenders, and goalies? Why?
Geremy: Only one team is carrying a goalie on their reserve list in Minnesota while the rest are showing which position they think is so important that they need reserves now to cover those holes. Each team is already carrying an extra forward, defender, and goalie so I’m going to lean towards the teams who have two forwards and a defender on their reserve list so that’s Ottawa and Boston. This allows during practice to ensure five full forward lines and four complete defense pairings. Ultimately each team is really just putting the players they think will help the most in a pinch if need be regardless of position as each team location will have players that can play in the PWHL but unfortunately just weren’t able to make it on the tight rosters.
Maya: As a goalie, I’m happy to see Minnesota carrying one. But, in a short season like this, I don’t see them having to play her when they already signed three goalies. I think carrying two forwards and one defense is the smart decision. But if you’re New York and you have the option to have Claire Thompson on reserve, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have two D.
The only team I think is in a bit of an odd position is Montréal having 3 forwards. They must think their defense is super-human.
Angelica: I definitely agree with New York’s choice to carry two defenders on reserve. Injuries and prior commitments are incredibly unpredictable things, and like Maya said, if one of your reserve options is Claire Thompson? You’d be silly not to.
Carlie: Definitely Minnesota or New York, as I think teams were right to prioritize goalie or defender depth. As we’ve seen in the past, goalie depth in women’s leagues always ends up being more important than people think. Not being able to call up a goalie leads to a scramble for a goalie that’s available to move and play on short notice rather than the best available one, and I would personally prefer having my choice of goalie before disaster happens. As for defenders, the next question addresses the right-handed defender shortage. Given that it was a problem in the draft and before injuries in the season, I think it was smart to stock up before games begin.
The draft had a lack of high-end right handed defenders. Which teams stand out to you as having solved or not solved that issue and why?
Geremy: As much as I love what Ottawa and New York have put together roster wise their right handed defenders situations are tenuous as best. Especially New York who will have to make some decisions now about how they deploy their defenders in the line up. Somewhere in their top 4 they’ll probably have two lefties on the same pair. If there’s two teams who ended up doing really well in getting talented right handed defenders it’s Boston and Toronto. Both are looking strong down the right side and will have very balanced handed pairings from top to bottom.
Maya: I’m not super concerned about this. Obviously, it would be nice to have a right hand defender and a left hand defender on the same pairing. But I think the more each pair works together, the more they can work around it. If it does come down to it, then I agree with Geremy about Boston and Toronto having the most success.
Angelica: I feel like I've thrown enough shade at Boston, so I'll say I do like what they've done with their defense. I think there's not just a decent balance hand-wise, but also in terms of what role each pair/each D within that pair can play. Again, super important once postseason rolls around!
Carlie: To me, Boston did an excellent job at balancing handedness and building from their net out. All three of their right handed defenders are absolute steals and could be the difference makers between a solid championship run and being middle of the pack.
Predict the end of season standings.