What we know (and what we don’t) about the CWHL ceasing operations

A lot of unknowns are ahead

The women’s hockey landscape just massively changed as the CWHL will cease operations on May 1. So here’s what we know — mostly what we don’t know — about the future.

What does this mean for the players, coaches, and staff?

The CWHL had six teams with at least 25 players per roster, two or three coaches, a general manager, and many more behind the scenes. That’s more than 150 players, 12 coaches, six general managers, and hundreds more without a team.

With numerous other leagues around the world — including the NWHL in the United States — players will hopefully find new teams. However, the current financial landscape of women’s hockey really complicates that. Players are not paid living wages so they play in cities where they have full time jobs or other arrangements available. A large majority of the players cannot just pick up their lives and move to a new city, country, or even continent to play hockey without significant sacrifice.

Speaking of the NWHL, what does this mean for them?

No idea. For the large majority, the CWHL seemed stable. They set attendance records this season. The Clarkson Cup game was broadcast live on three different television stations. While it was apparent that the league wasn’t on the strongest of footings, folding has taken many by surprise.

When reached for a comment, the NWHL said they were unaware the CWHL was folding and would likely have a statement later.

UPDATE: The NWHL released a statement on the matters.

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 U.S., but around the world.

Well now’s there one league so...

I’d wager this is not how anyone saw one league happening. The NHL has long said they’d wait for only one league (even though for the longest time there was only one league). However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has also said he didn’t believe in the business models of either league.

What’s with the #NoLeague tweets?

The players have rallied around one message, sharing the same language using the hashtag No League.

We’ve seen players utilize Twitter like this before. In the NWHL’s second season, the players went public with their grievances. They all tweeted the same screenshot of what they were asking for. During Team USA’s 2017 (almost) boycott of Worlds due to stalled negotiations with USA Hockey over “fair wages and equitable support”, the team had a unified and strong social media plan under #BeBoldForChange. In both of those instances, the outcome has been positive in favor of the players — the NWHL players worked out an agreement with the league that was suitable to them and Team USA went on to play (and win) at Worlds.

However, this time feels different. The league — which is a non-profit — is ceasing operations for financial reasons. Seemingly the only real solution here is for more financial support. But where does that come from?

Why did they announce it now, just before the IIHF World Championships?

To be frank, the timing is horrid.

The 10-day tournament starts in Finland on Thursday, April 4. The 25 players from the CWHL who are playing for at least three different countries should be focused on that tournament. Instead, they will be asked CWHL Folding Questions. In a world where so much of the media attention on women’s hockey is focused on off-ice issues rather than the on-ice game, this adds insult to injury for those players who will have to face media scrums constantly.