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Players offer their thoughts, plus more details on the CWHL salary structure

Players are happy but acknowledge there is still work to be done

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Liz Knox (37) and Karell Emard (76) are two of the members of the CWHLPA.
Shanna Martin / Eyes on the Prize

With less than two months until the season is expected to start, and less than a month before training camps, the CWHLPA and the CWHL are still ironing out the finer details of both the salary structure and the upcoming season.

But the league, meeting the goal set out to pay players for the 2017-18 season, has already jumped over a major hurdle by confirming the overall structure that will see players receive a stipend for the first time.

“The idea of player compensation was mentioned but not fully addressed until the league could provide concrete information on numbers,” said Markham Thunder goaltender Liz Knox, who co-chairs the CWHLPA with Calgary Inferno defender Hayleigh Cudmore. “Due to the league’s confidentiality clauses and standard business practice, the idea that players were going to get paid was a relatively new concept to most of us, and one that we are understandably very excited about,” Knox said.

“We thought this year would be the pivotal year,” said Les Canadiennes forward Karell Emard, who is one of the team’s representatives. “We needed to do something in order to make it evolve or make something happen.”

Additionally, Eyes on the Prize has learned from a source that the $2,000 minimum salary that has been reported will be higher depending on a player’s time in the league, up to $3,000. General managers then have the ability to divide the rest of the team’s $100,000 salary cap, after minimums, as they see fit (this appears to be the ‘discretionary fund’ that has been referred to in the past). The exact structure of the salaries and salary cap has not been confirmed.

Although two years ago, the league said the plan was always to pay players for the 2017-18 season, one player mentioned that they had been told as early as two years ago that the league was planning to pay them.

“I think the league had that in mind and obviously the original goal was a little bit earlier but we are really happy to see it happen this year,” the player said. “We’ve heard for the last few years that the following year we were going to get paid so we were wondering if it would actually happen…”

The PA, which consists of two player representatives per team chosen by their teammates, also says that they were very active in talks with the league about what the structure would look like, although the league has the final say regarding the decisions.

“The CWHL sought the PA’s feedback on a number of items regarding team salaries and players stipends, and I believe that our feedback was heard. In the end, the final decisions are [made by] the league,” Knox said.

“[CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress] was very flexible to allow us to suggest ideas and try to lead them to the most beneficial decision for all players and them as an administration too,” said Emard.

There are still details to iron out, however, as the players still haven’t seen what the wording on the contracts will be. The PA also hopes to get some bonuses for players who attend every game and practice, according to a source.

The league also hasn’t released their schedule yet, although players do have some details regarding the dates of their expected trip to China.

This is in contrast to a tweet from July, surrounding the expansion details in China. The confusion came from the players’ expectations that there would be one Chinese team, but that quickly shifted to two and most of the players found out at the same time as the rest of the fans and media.

According to Knox, once the league had its year-end, the communication did improve with the players through the PA.

The Athletic has reported the schedule will be 28 games, with teams playing four games in China over a nine day period (two against each team). No other details have been announced officially, however the CWHL’s season ticket holder page lists different amounts of home games for each North American team, not giving any more clues as to what the schedule will look like.

It should be noted that outreach games are not included in the season ticket package, which could explain some of the discrepancy. Outreach games are games not played at the team’s normal home arena, and sometimes not even in the team’s city. In the past Montreal has played games in Saint Georges de Beauce, and various suburbs around the city including at the Bell Centre.

Back at the All-Star Game in February, the league announced a partnership with the NHLPA and it seems like the CWHLPA has received some assistance so far, with the partnership hopefully growing as the season rolls on.

“The NHLPA has offered support and education for how negotiations are effective in their realm of sport,” Knox said. “Since we are not yet at the same scale of business as the NHL, education is the best way to move forward and we are thankful for their guidance.”

Emard says that the hope is to pick their brains even further for information and advice as well as to discuss the possibility of joint events like CWHL teams have had through their NHL team partnerships—such as Les Canadiennes players taking part at the Canadiens’ blood drives and hockey schools.

This is the first step for the league in going to the next level, and having a good working relationship between the league and the players is a solid start. Things do seem to be moving in the right direction.

“At the end of the day, we all love the game,” Knox said. “Women's hockey is the fastest growing sport in North America and we are all trying to find ways to ensure this trend continues. Of course, the pay is a bonus but we are realistic to the fact that at this time, many of us need to maintain full time work to play the sport we love. We are a long way from the goal of just being athletes.”