On Monday, the 200-plus players who have opted not to play professional hockey in North America took their movement one step further, announcing the official incorporation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).
“The PWHPA will help players coordinate training needs and opportunities and develop support from sponsors,” the PWHPA stated in a release. Members include players from across the United States, Canada and Europe, but does not include the NWHLPA and its players.
“The (PWHPA) encompasses any player that is #ForTheGame,” former Metropolitan Riveters goaltender Kimberly Sass told The Hockey News.
So, what does that mean for NWHLPA director Anya Battaglino and her players in the NWHL, which, following the closure of the CWHL, is the only remaining professional women’s league in North America? When asked if the new players association was in communication with the NWHLPA, Battaglino responded, “They have not reached out to bridge any gap or conversation. I feel their goals will be to operate completely separately…I don't believe it that at this point, we have a collaboration on the forefront.”
However, Battaglino and the NWHLPA continue to push forward. On Friday, Allie Thunstrom became the sixth player to sign an NWHL contract for the 2019-20 season and the first to re-sign with the defending champion Minnesota Whitecaps.
“I am super excited to join the Minnesota Whitecaps for my seventh season and our second in the NWHL,” Thunstrom said, per a release. “Jack Brodt has done an absolutely incredible job keeping this team going for the past 15 years and providing opportunities for us to continue playing the game we love at a high level.”
“I trust the NWHL leadership and investment team that they have the best interests of women’s hockey at heart and more importantly I believe in the Whitecaps organization and cannot thank Jack enough for what he has provided for myself and countless others,” she continued. “I am honored to play for him and his organization for another year.”
Thunstrom, along with all others who have signed or will sign with NWHL clubs ahead of next season, will also benefit from a new contract Battaglino and lawyer Christina Simanca-Proctor negotiated with the league. In April, Battaglino told The Hockey News that the NWHLPA was hopeful the new contract would include an increased salary cap and a 50-50 revenue share. The PA received both, as well as a few other noteworthy wins.
“We increased the salary cap by 50 percent to $150,000 per team, and then we introduced the 50-50 profit sharing model,” Battaglino said. “Players will receive 50 percent of the profits, after installation costs are deducted, from all league-wide media and sponsorship deals.”
Not everything the NWHLPA fought for was incorporated into the new contracts, but compromises were made elsewhere. “We asked for comprehensive health insurance. We didn't get it this year. And one of the ways that the league was able to adjudicate that was to increase the base pay, increase the amount of money that was coming in, and then as they drive revenue dollars coming forward, hopefully that will help substantiate if somebody has to buy (health insurance), for example,” Battaglino explained.
The contract also included a 24-game schedule for all NWHL teams for the 2019-20 season, increases to travel, a $25 per diem and meal allotments. The per diem was $20 last season. “Our goals in the per diem is to move towards what we think is equitable…When we looked at the pay rate increase and the minimum wage increase, we settled on 25 percent increase,” Battaglino said. In addition to raising per diem, players will also be paid upfront and have post-game meals and breakfast when traveling on the road.
There is a long way to go, but improvements have been made. But, will it be enough? The remaining unknowns didn’t stop veteran Kaleigh Fratkin from re-signing with the Boston Pride for a third season, which will be her fifth campaign in the NWHL.
“I think for me being in this league from Day One, I've kind of seen it all,” Fratkin said. “I have stuck in the league with salary cuts. When you go through the infancy of a business or start up a business, there's always ups and downs…I actually knew that (those involved with the #ForTheGame movement) were filing for articles of incorporation prior to me signing. So, knowing that they were going to be forming (the PWHPA) didn't change my mind.”
When asked if there will realistically be enough players to fill NWHL rosters, Fratkin said, “If you asked me that question in Year Three…probably not. We'd be scraping the barrel to pick up players.”
Fratkin believes the sport has grown and that the NWHL has proven it can survive without big-name Olympians, as it did during the 2017-18 season when USA Hockey players left to prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Additionally, the PWHPA still lacks concrete details for Fratkin to be all-in.
“I just hope that some people are really realizing what they're doing and instead of following, really look into educating (themselves) on what's really out there and asking questions and doing their due diligence,” Fratkin said. “That's kind of my biggest thing that I want people to at least think about.”
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