What’s up with the PWHPA?

The PWHPA has been silent while summer speculation and reports have been abuzz.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) allows players the opportunity to train and platform at the elite level while waiting for a sustainable professional women’s hockey league to play in.

The PWHPA has criticized other existing and former leagues while working to create a league of its own. Though they have publicly confirmed nothing, reports this summer loosely paint the picture of what the future holds for the PWHPA.

PWHPA – PHF – NHL Meetings (March 2022)

Jeff Marek reported in mid-March that the NHL was to host discussions between the PWHPA and the PHF on their futures… possibly together. The PWHPA’s vision is to build a sustainable model for paid professional women’s hockey that, among other things, pays players a living wage. The PHF, now entering its 8th season, believes it has largely met this goal. The NHL stands firm that if it is to support women’s hockey financially or otherwise, it would need the two to be united.

Hailey Salvian reported on April 11th that after an unknown number of meetings, the PWHPA was ending the discussions. Salvian reported the PWHPA remained confident in its ability to create a sustainable, paid league and was skeptical of the PHF’s model and funding certainty.

It is easy to question the PWHPA here – the PHF has a paid women’s hockey league, and the PWHPA does not. I won’t list everything Salvian writes, but I highly suggest you read her article on the PWHPA’s insistence on forging ahead alone.

PWHPA League Details (April 2022)

In March, Marek hinted that there was an 8-10 year, multi-million-dollar deal in the works to fund the creation of the PWHPA’s new league. A month later, on April 16th, he reported details of what that league would look like.

It would be another 6 team league, like the PHF but feature a season with more games in a tighter timeframe. The new PWHPA league would also pay players more, with an average salary of $55 thousand for players.

Some quick math would put the cost of this league at over $80 million with no additional information from where the investment would come. Marek’s report of the new league did not state that the funding was in place – only what the PWHPA’s plan was for the league.

PWHPA – Billie Jean King Enterprises Partnership (May 2022)

Hailey Salvian and the Athletic reported in late May that the PWHPA was entering a formal partnership with the companies of Tennis legend Billie Jean King and LA Dodgers owner Mark Walker. It was also reported that the PWHPA is working with consultants to develop a business model for their future league.

Nothing further has been reported on the partnership since. The two companies can bring sports management experience to the PWHPA and, more importantly, a lot of money.

Fenway Sports Group Interest (July)

Early in July, Taylor Haase wrote that the Fenway Group, owners of the Pittsburg Penguins, Boston Red Sox, and Liverpool F.C., were interested in bringing a professional women’s hockey team to Pittsburg.

The PWHPA has partnerships with ten NHL teams, but only a few have hosted PWHPA events. Pittsburgh is one of those, having hosted the Rivalry Rematch games in March of 2022. Canadian and American PWHPA players faced off at the PPG paints arena in Pittsburgh, sponsored by the Penguins.

Kevin Acklin of the Penguins told Haase they were excited by the great reception to the game and the growing market for women’s hockey. She reported that the Penguins were in talks with the NHL to explore the opportunity of putting a permanent women’s hockey team in Pittsburgh.

Acklin did not expressly state it would be a team in any specific league. Still, the speculation is that with a new PWHPA league on the horizon and the existing Penguins-PWHPA partnership, the proposed league would be the obvious fit.

Players leaving

During the PHF free agency period, eight former PWHPA players signed with PHF teams. Additionally, the PHF has signed key free agents out of collegiate hockey. The PWHPA has yet to formally confirm or announce their plans for next season and, as a result, has not locked in any players.

In my opinion, the movement of players from the PWHPA to the PHF does not negatively reflect the PWHPA’s future. The PWHPA has not confirmed any details for the upcoming season, and the PHF has money to offer. You cannot blame players for signing contracts with financial certainty. It does not mean they don’t believe in the PWHPA, and it doesn’t mean they can’t come back in a year if the PWHPA has a paid league.

The PHF is putting pressure on the PWHPA’s proposed league to start committing money to players or risk losing them, but the PWHPA’s window is far from closed.