Multiple sources have confirmed what the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has suggested several times over the course the past few months: CWHL players will be compensated next season.
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League celebrated its 10th season last year, making it one of the oldest women’s leagues in North America, second only to the WNBA. The biggest difference between the CWHL and the WNBA, however, is that the former wasn’t paying its players. Until now.
The league has long promised that it would eventually pay its players, but they wanted to create a sustainable product first, so they wouldn’t have to cut salaries or stop paying players once they started.
While the league already compensates its players in a number of ways (travel expenses, meal per diems, equipment, and performance-based incentives), the CWHL’s timetable for salaries has always been the 2017-18 season. CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress has repeatedly been asked whether or not the league is on track to meet the target, a question she has expertly dodged over the years. However, to the trained ear, several factors have indicated that this day was coming.
The CWHL announced a partnership with the NHLPA during the 2017 All-Star Weekend in Toronto this past February, suggesting that the league was looking into how to negotiate contracts, as well as how to come up with a pay structure that would work for everyone, while still maintaining the sustainability of the league.
While the pay structure likely won’t come in the form of a traditional salary format with free-agency, CWHL players will begin seeing compensation for the first time this fall when the 2017-18 season begins.
“The pay structure has not been finalized yet,” a league spokesperson said. “But as Brenda [Andress] said at the press conference [announcing the expansion to China], it has always been the strategic plan to compensate the players this year. The details and specifics are still being worked out.”
Internal memos sent to team general managers, coaches and players explained that the details have yet to be finalized, but that there will be remuneration for their work next season.
In addition to the long-awaited compensation, there will be several notable changes coming to the league this fall:
The team general manager positions will be moving from part-time to full-time positions, with annual salaries that represent a living wage. There will also be management changes, with four of the five teams posting hiring notices for their GM positions, and two confirmed departures in Toronto and Brampton. Les Canadiennes were the only team to not post their GM position.
The CWHL signed a five-year deal for an expansion franchise in China, the Kunlun Red Star. While details have yet to be finalized, it’s likely that the Chinese team will come to North America for three weeks at a time, to play the North American teams. Montreal, Toronto, Brampton, Calgary and Boston will each travel to China for a week at a time, to play a three game series.
In addition, China is pouring a significant amount of money into the league, to offset the additional travel expenses.
The CWHL is also extending its season from 24 to 30 games to accommodate for the sixth team. There’s no word yet on the 2018 Clarkson Cup location, as the league’s two-year deal with the Ottawa Senators and the Canadian Tire Centre expired this past March.
The players have also been asking for the league to consider a best-of-three final schedule, similar to the semifinal format, however there’s no reason to believe that this is something the league is seriously considering at this time.
The timing of these changes is particularly interesting, given that the some of the biggest names in the league will be centralized next season for the Olympics, and won’t be playing with their club teams until later in the season, if at all. Some players will rejoin their rosters when they return from PyeongChang after the 2018 Winter Olympics. The aforementioned changes should pique fan interest at the start of the season, despite the loss of big name star power.
As the CWHL enters its 11th season, it is apparent that there is an appetite for women’s hockey, not just in North America, but abroad as well, as KRS’s interest shows.
It can pack 6,000 fans into an NHL stadium with less than a month’s notice to sell tickets, as we saw at the Bell Centre in December 2016, and hundreds of thousands of people are willing to watch women’s hockey on television, as we saw this season on Sportsnet.
All of these factors bode well for the future success of the league, and the sport and are reasons why the league can take this next step.