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For women’s hockey, the talk needs to stop and turn to action

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The PWHPA is all in. Who’s going to join them at the table?

New York Riveters Media Day Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NWHL released a statement on Thursday afternoon in which they said on the record for the first time that they wouldn’t stand in the way of a league that gave the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) what they are asking for. It was the first time the league acknowledged “passing the torch,” as they put it in the release.

It’s somewhat ironic that a league that was started in part because of the players’ annoyance with the status quo (the CWHL at the time) is now on the other side of the players once again wanting more. And the NWHL, this time, seems just fine with the way things are.

When asked, the NWHL declined a request for an interview to clarify and provide more context to their statement and the current landscape of women’s hockey.

It’s time for people to step up. The only people in this whole equation who have done anything proactively are the players in the PWHPA. After years of #OneLeague, they decided they needed something better and have been the only group taking any action by saying they would not play for any existing league in North America.

No one else has done anything. Not the CWHL, who folded before they could have any real say. Not the NWHL, who are using buzzwords and clichés but quite literally moving on as if nothing happened. And definitely not the NHL, the ones who can actually do something but instead publicly they decide to sit in their tower watching the rest of the women’s hockey world catch on fire. Equipped with fire extinguishers and hoses, they are deciding to let everything burn down instead of stepping in and making renovations. They said they don’t believe in the NWHL’s model. Two of their teams have pulled their support from the league, but they are content to watch - at least publicly.

Even the NWHL’s statement wasn’t proactive. It came 24 hours after an article by Kirsten Whelan of the Victory Press detailing many problematic clauses in the standard NWHL contract. That article details many negative aspects of the contract, and things that the PWHPA is fighting for. The NWHLPA has said that they had full control of the contract verbiage, but that control didn’t lead to many gains.

Aside from minimal monetary gains (and the per game rate staying the same), the players needing to prove they have their own health insurance while making an average of $6,250 is a significant sticking point. The league did make clear that players are insured for all on-ice incidents.

Another troubling part is that the NWHL can extend any player’s contract for the 2020-21 season with a salary increase of 3%. Then, the player needs to reject that within 30 days. Even if they reject the extension, they cannot sign with another North American league until late September 2020 as long as the league offers the extension.

I do want to be clear that I don’t blame the NWHL for what they are offering the players. If they could, I have no doubt they would give the players more. But their model does not allow for that, and that is what the PWHPA is standing up for. A lot of the criticism of the PWHPA is that they are not giving firm demands to the NWHL, but if you know the person you’re negotiating with cannot give you what you’re looking for, why bother?

The NWHL also all but cancelled plans for their expansion to Canada, which always seemed dead on arrival. The league announced their expansion plans on April 2: “We expect to have teams in Toronto and Montreal this upcoming season and we’ll be pursuing opportunities to work with current stakeholders and partners,” they said.

The problem is that they never spoke to anyone in either Montreal or Toronto before making that announcement. It even caught the former CWHL general managers in those markets off guard, forcing them to release a statement.

On Thursday, the NWHL said that “time, cooperation and preparation is required [for expansion]. We would love to have more teams in 2019-20 and will make it happen if there is a spirit of partnership from all sides. Unless there is a change of heart soon, we will revisit expansion for the 2020-21 season.”

According to sources, there was little to no contact between the NWHL and potential stakeholders in Montreal between the two announcements and little interest has been shown by those stakeholders in the city. This likely should have been something the league looked at before making any announcements.

That’s why talk is meaningless without action. The NHL acts gracious by not wanting to step on any toes and competing with any existing leagues in their public statements, despite The Athletic reporting that there are some plans in place in terms of a WNHL. The NWHL says they now are open to talking with any other potential stakeholders which is a turn from when there were reports that the NWHL was the league refusing to budge.

The result right now is that the NHL and NWHL are both holding a door open, insisting that the other go through first but in the meantime, nothing moves forward.

No statements will change anything at this point. The time is far overdue for some changes. The PWHPA is at the table. They made their gamble to push for something more. They just need someone to match their bet.