We're a couple of months removed from the seismic shift in women's hockey, as the PHF was acquired by Billie Jean King Enterprises and the Mark Walter Group, launching the new Professional Women's Hockey League. Now, as the dust is settling and we loom closer to the puck drop date that the league has imposed upon itself – namely, sometime in January – we have gone from getting leaks and trickles over the course of roughly 60 days to a veritable deluge of information in the span of a week. Or at least, a deluge of some information and a promise of more at some point. A slightly larger trickle? I don't know.
What We Do Know
At any rate, we have a confirmed name – the aforementioned, abbreviated PWHL as of Tuesday – and six sites the teams will play in, mostly, except for when they play neutral site games. Boston, Minnesota, Montreal, New York*, Ottawa, and Toronto have been chosen as the inaugural teams for this new league, with team names, branding, and venues forthcoming.
(*sources indicate this New York team is actually going to be in Connecticut. Just as an FYI.)
We also have, as of Friday afternoon, six general managers. Four of them are women; multiple have either national team or NHL ties. The most easily recognizable names are those connected to either USA Hockey or Hockey Canada – namely, Hockey Canada greats Daniele Sauvageau (heading Montreal) and Toronto GM Gina Kingsbury, along with Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz. Joining these three are New York's* Pascal Daoust, Ottawa's Michael Hirshfeld, and Boston's Danielle Marmer, three execs within men's hockey who have some connection to the women's game (with the exception of Hirshfeld, who reportedly has a team working with him to get up to speed). There's been much fanfare, a lot of media presence, and the familiar sense of starry-eyed optimism that permeates every iteration of a women's hockey league (or women's sports in general, really).
Still Some Big Questions
There's also so much that is still left to hash out. Such as: who will these GMs pick to coach? What's the timeline? ("Soon," seemed to be the most popular answer in both press conferences) When are we getting a schedule? Venues? Who will be the first signings? (Probably MPP, let's be real.) And what can we really, truly expect once the puck drops in January... whenever that date in January really is?
What can we come to expect from these, the first few days of free agency, when general managers are said to be communicating with players and trying to work out deals, but the coaches they're supposed to hire might not even be a part of that conversation until much later? What to expect from a draft in a couple of weeks if there isn't really a proper brand for either league or team to adorn their player selections with? As fans have asked, how much slack should we be giving to a league with arguably more resources, that has been reported to be setting up the forest for months but missing a lot of the trees, as it were?
Cautiously Optimistic Skepticism, and a Bone to Pick
All of this isn't even touching on the fact that, threaded within the tapestry this group is weaving, there continues to be this overarching narrative of "Finally, a real league," as if the past decade has been some sort of kitschy experiment rather than an effort to push women's hockey forward. That discredits the work done by so many to push the game to a point where players are making more than they were even three seasons ago, and where major investors are taking notice. And as the PWHL posits itself as an improvement over previous leagues, it can't act like it exists in a vacuum; hell, even if it didn't, it would be unable to overlook the fact that other leagues laid this groundwork.
While a good number of GMs have acknowledged that freely, there has still been this general desire amongst those within and those covering this new league to frame it as a first of its kind, full-stop, and that simply isn't true. Admitting that, and reminding others of that, is not discrediting a league that has still made progress from a labor standpoint. Progress is progress. I shouldn't have to explain this to adults, but here we are. Also, "improvement" is definitely subjective at this point, especially when so much is still labeled with a question mark – so while some things, like a collective bargaining agreement, should be lauded, we can't just continue to bank on that and ignore some of the under-the-radar things ownership and GMs can still do to undermine player rights.
I have cautious optimism that things will fall into place eventually, partly because I do think there is work being done behind the scenes and partly because there's nothing else to fall back on if this fails. Not in North America, anyway. And ultimately, if players are excited and looking ahead to January, that's all I can ask for. I just want promise to turn into action now that the player movement's dream – a league they're comfortable with – is becoming a reality.