The Big Picture
First, I must say how thrilled I am to work alongside Annie and Howard for The IX Newsletter. Suffice it to say, we all have a passion for seeing women’s sports and female athletes, coaches and executives get adequate coverage. While that often includes Twitter rants (that can now be threaded together), it also means uplifting excellent reporters and their work.
Now, on to the hockey news. From college to the professional ranks, it’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan. The postseason is upon us and already brought us some surprises, such as Ohio State advancing to the Frozen Four (links below).
However, as to not bury the lede, the biggest hockey news of late is gold medalist Hilary Knight returning to the CWHL for the remainder of the 2017-18 season. The former member of the Boston Blades (CWHL) and the Boston Pride (NWHL) is taking her talents north to play for the Montreal Les Canadiennes.
Women’s hockey, like most things, always has a few ripples in the water. The latest: #OneLeague. Since the NWHL came on the scene in 2015, there have always been questions as to whether women’s hockey could sustain two professional leagues. In the wake of another successful women’s Olympic tournament, heavy hitters in the hockey community have revived the urgency of one league.
In many ways, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revived the #OneLeague conversation by way of his comments on The Big Show podcast (link below) on March 2. Bettman offered his concern that women’s hockey doesn’t have enough talent to field two competing leagues. He added, if the CWHL and the NWHL didn’t exist, the NHL could create a league of their own.
An interesting comment, especially since the NHL has held the rights to the WNHL since 1999. That’s one year removed from the first women’s Olympic hockey tournament, and eight years before the founding of the CWHL. So, forgive me if I question the sincerity of Bettman’s interest in women’s hockey. Especially when he follows up with, “I don’t want to take ownership over it unless I take ownership over it! I don’t mean that from an economic standpoint, I mean that from a control standpoint and building it.”
While Bettman might find the current landscape difficult, former Hockey Canada star Cassie Campbell certainly does not. “Enough is enough. Let’s take women’s hockey to the next level,” she told The Big Show on March 8. “I know all the issues from behind the scenes and I’m not going to point fingers at one league or another. But it’s time the two commissioners wake up, get into a room together – 24 hours, seven days a week or whatever it takes – and make this one. Figure out a way you can do it.”
If Campbell ignited the flame, the news that 2018 Olympic gold medalist Hilary Knight would return to the CWHL for the remainder of the 2017-18 season fanned it. I’ve heard just about every take regarding the Knight news. What does it say about the CWHL? What does it say about the NWHL? What does it say about her loyalties to USA Hockey?
Overall, what people are not discussing in the #OneLeague conversation is what the players want. Not just in the future as some concept floated by daddy’s money, but now. What do players want now? Knight is not the only player to try her luck elsewhere this season. She’s not even the only Olympian to relocate.
It is completely reasonable for a player to select a team based on their ability to afford top-tier players. Equally as important is the fact that neither league can pay for the loyalty of top players. Whether one league or not, any professional job paying less than a livable wage is lucky to be in business. The loyalty of top talent should be considered a gift, and one of great value.
But ultimately, to be sustainable, hockey leagues need to subsist on financial autonomy, not the leaps of faith by another generation of players.