We're a couple weeks into PHF free agency, and there are a great many things to unpack with regard to where we, and the players themselves, all stand. The main issue right now is deciding whether or not just to burn the whole damn suitcase instead at this point, because we're heading into Year Nine, and some of the same old issues are still arising.
It's difficult as someone looking in from the fringes, because you know what you've come to expect and what should reasonably happen when players are once again open to sign contracts, either with the same team or a new squad. There are terms and conditions, maybe an announcement on the amount of the contract, and certain by-laws each party has to abide by. This off-season, however, we have gotten none of that, and the problem is we're playing with much, much bigger money this time around.
I want to make a few things clear before I continue: I think the players are entitled to what they're worth. I think teams and the league in general should absolutely operate in good faith and be transparent about that. I think that as the price tags increase, so does the desire on both sides of the fence to fight over the final sale, so to speak. And I think even though this is more money than anyone playing women's pro hockey has ever seen, players should all be realistic about it still having to stretch to compensate 20-something athletes for their labor. (In other words, ask for what you're worth, but remember you're not the only one.)
It's difficult at this juncture, though, to determine what good faith is, or what terms and conditions should look like, because the PHF hasn't made that clear. They went full bore into FA without any kind of guidelines, and if there have been guidelines established since free agency began, they haven't really been made public. This creates a Wild West kind of situation where players stand to get lowballed if they don't have the right representation – or aim for the stars in an unreasonable bid for a bigger salary, but make no mistake: when it comes to this kind of negotiation, it's not unreasonable to think the GMs and owners have the bulk of the power.
Comrade Mike Murphy has already gone into some of the concerns when it comes to spending to the cap floor, and I think it bears repeating that with this lack of guidance (and lack of a collective bargaining agreement, for that matter) comes a very big chance that your average middle-to-bottom-six forward or third-string goalie misses out on the benefits of more money. And until the league stops waiting until the last possible moment to get its act together and be upfront about how this all works, we're going to continue to be skeptical that every single front office is going to act in the players' best interest. At the end of the day, the bottom line means more to them than the blueline, and the utter lack of organization of the league works in their favor.
This is a trend that has spanned the course of eight seasons and looks to be spiraling right into a ninth. And don't get me wrong – I understand nine years is a child's lifetime compared to the decades and centuries of leagues like the NHL and even the WNBA. I get that there has been a lot of turnover and changing of the guard, from Dani to Ty to Reagan. That, to me, does not excuse the fact that with big statements and splashy headlines come a level of meticulous planning and forethought, both things the PHF has demonstrated multiple times even this past season that they have no concept of.
Just take a peek at the Isobel Cup Final announcement for a clear example – a neutral site across the country from every single team, two weeks out from the set date, leaving no time for fans or even media in many cases to request time off or make travel arrangements. Before that, it was the dragging of feet on releasing All-Star rosters. Before that, it was the regular season schedule. And on, and on, and on, we continue to get Year One responses for Year Eight issues.
As we get ever closer to double digits, I am urging the PHF (and, when it happens, the PWHL) to do better when it comes to their communication and just the basics of running a successful operation. The fans, the media, and most of all, the players, all deserve much better. They, and we, believe in the product. Now, it's time to really produce.