A new women’s hockey league launches in January. There’s plenty of work to do before then

FILE - Team Sonnet goalie Erica Howe reaches for the puck during the first period of a hockey game against Team Bauer as part of the Secret Dream Gap Tour on Friday, March 4, 2022, in Arlington, Va. Organizers announced plans Friday, June 30, 2023, to launch a new women’s professional hockey league in January that they hope will provide a stable, economically sustainable home for the sport's top players for years to come. The agreement ends a long standoff between the seven-team Professional Hockey Federation (PHF) and the PWHPA. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

The stage is set for a new women’s hockey league to begin in January. The Professional Hockey Federation was bought out and members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement and constitution. But the work is just beginning before the puck drops six months from now. Decisions are yet to come on what the league will be called, who will run it and where each of the six teams will play. There’s also the question of how much involvement the NHL will have in supporting the endeavor.

Jayna Hefford gets goose bumps thinking about what it will be like when the puck drops in January on a new women’s hockey league featuring the world’s best players.

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The stage is set for that after a new ownership group bought out the Professional Hockey Federation and members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement and constitution. Still, amid her excitement about a banner achievement in the sport, the Hockey Hall of Famer and PWHPA chairwoman understands there’s more to do.

“From a league perspective, the work is really just beginning,” Hefford said.

What do we know?

The PHF is gone after a group headed by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter and including tennis great and women’s sports icon Billie Jean King purchased assets to pave the way for the one sustainable league so many players have been working for.

Those players will go into the pool of available talent for the new league, which is to be made up of six teams: three each in the U.S. and Canada. There will be 23-player rosters with salaries ranging from $35,000-$80,000, plus a licensing agreement that will allow many of the top stars to exceed that maximum amount.

The league is expected to feature U.S. national team players like Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel and Canadian national team players like Sarah Nurse and Marie-Philip Poulin, all of whom were members of the PHWPA and refused to join the PHF, which was formerly known as the NWHL, based on philosophical differences revolving around its economic model, health care and other issues.

Players under contract with the PHF who don’t make one of the teams will be compensated.

“The priority has been to make sure we can take care of players as best we can and to be mindful of those that may not be able to have the opportunity to move forward in this new league,” said Reagan Carey, who along with Hefford is expected to have a leadership position in the new league after serving as PHF commissioner. “While the chapter is somewhat coming to a close here for the PHF, our support of the players, and our commitment to making sure we can do what we can to support them, is ongoing.”

What comes next?

Hefford and Dodgers president Stan Kasten, whom Walter has tasked with running this show, expect a lot of movement over the next 30 to 60 days.

“I have had people preparing,” Kasten said. “We’re going to pick a name soon. We’re going to get a logo. We’re going to land on our cities. We’re going to pick our venues. We’re going to come out with our schedule.”

Officials representing the new league began touring prospective cities months ago while CBA discussions were underway. Among the top sites being considered are Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and London, Ontario.

Once the cities are chosen, teams will be staffed with coaches, executives and more. There will be a draft at some point later in the year, followed by free agency.

What will the NHL do?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been adamant for years that the league wouldn’t pick a side between the rival factions within women’s hockey and would get behind one sustainable solution once things were worked out.

Now that that’s happened, expect cooperation. The league on Friday said officials “already have initiated discussions with representatives of this unified group regarding how we can work together to continue to grow the women’s game.”

It’s yet to be seen how deep the involvement will be, ranging from something similar to the NBA running the WNBA to something more of a support role. The Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises are already strong owners in place.

The PWHPA lists 14 NHL franchises as among its partners, and it has previously had TV broadcast agreements with Comcast, The NHL Network, Canada’s TSN and Washington Capitals partner Monumental.

Perhaps the most important thing the NHL can do is lend its shield logo and other visibility elements to the new women’s league. How does WNHL sound?

From a marketing perspective, what about the New Original Six?

“It’s all on the drawing board,” Kasten said. “Right now, I am open to all suggestions.”

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