FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2018, file photo, Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados watch as U.S. players celebrate a win during the Four Nations Cup hockey gold-medal game in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. More than 200 of the top female hockey players in the world have decided they will not play professionally in North America next season, hoping their stand leads to a single economically sustainable league. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press via AP)

Women’s players hope NHL steps in to create new league

The NBA did it with the WNBA and soccer leagues in Europe and the U.S. have done it

Meghan Duggan need only look around sports to get excited about what an NHL-run women’s hockey league might look like.

The NBA did it with the WNBA. Soccer leagues in Europe and the U.S. have done it. And that was enough for the 2018 U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning captain and more than 200 fellow players to take a leap of faith by pledging not to play in North America this year to try to get to the point where there’s a single, economically viable professional league.

“History has told all of us that startup women’s professional leagues thrive and are very successful when working with an existing professional league,” Duggan told The Associated Press on Thursday. “That’s definitely something I think that we would be excited about. But this is just the first step in getting there.”

The effective boycott of North America’s only remaining women’s hockey league, the National Women’s Hockey League, sent shockwaves through the sport with a major equipment company advocating for NHL ownership and men’s players and agents voicing their support.

Now comes the big question:

Will it work?

“I think they have a better chance of succeeding than some of the men’s unions have,” said Matt DelDuca, a labour and employment attorney with Pepper Hamilton. “Strikes have not been very effective in professional sports for players because it’s hard to maintain them long term. Women’s professional sports are a little different because of the economics. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for them.”

It’s an opportunity equipment giant Bauer Hockey wants to be a part of. Vice president of marketing Mary-Kay Messier released a statement saying the National Hockey League “must be in an ownership position” for any women’s league.

“I really do believe and we at Bauer believe that that is the only sustainable, viable option for ownership,” Messier said in a phone interview. “It will really take a long-term view and the possibility of looking at this from a perspective of not the bottom line immediately but as a necessary step to ensure the future of the game through continued growth and participation inspiring those (future) generations.”

READ MORE: Team USA beats Canada 3-2 on the shootout to take home Olympic gold

The NHL has given $50,000 annually each to the NWHL and the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League that recently ceased operations. It has invited a handful of top players to participate in its All-Star skills competition. When Brianna Decker demonstrated the passing drill and finished with a better time than the winner, CCM Hockey said it would pay her the $25,000 she would’ve gotten as the prize.

University at Buffalo sports law professor Nellie Drew said her children follow the NHL and NWHL and love the game. She wonders what happens next.

“The question is going to be whether the economic demand will be there to drive this,” Drew said. “Right now in 2019, do the women’s hockey players have the economic leverage to make an effective stand on this position? Maybe not. But do they have the capacity to drive public sentiment strongly enough that it will make the (NHL) consider it? Yeah, I think they do.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The AP, “We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps.”

The U.S. women’s national team in 2017 threatened to skip the world championships in Michigan and wound up getting an improved benefits package from USA Hockey. Those players will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn about $71,000 annually. They can make up to $129,000 in Olympic years with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee. It was a big boost for a group of women who were getting $1,000 a month for six months around the Olympics.

READ MORE: 1 women’s league on the minds of Canadian, U.S. players at Four Nations Cup

That situation is much different from trying to establish a league from scratch, with questions ranging from the business model to potential locations, sponsors and investors, player benefits and more. The NWHL said it was going ahead with next season and was offering improved salaries and a revenue-sharing deal with players, who nonetheless made their decision to sit out.

No one believes a long-term league will materialize overnight, but U.S. Olympic game-winning goal-scorer Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said she was optimistic based on the NHL’s position and the power of so many players.

“We feel confident that we potentially have a gap year now and players are prepared to sit out an entire season of professional hockey, which isn’t good for any one individual player,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “But hopefully that will be the maximum that anyone would have to sit out.”

As word of the women’s decision spread, NHL players said they were excited even if they’re not sure how a league run by the NHL might work.

“They’re the best in the world at what they do. They should be compensated accordingly,” Colorado defenceman Ian Cole said. “I’m not sure how that would be structured. I’m not the chief financial officer of the NHL. I don’t know what the figures would look like. I don’t know if it’s economically feasible. I’m not sure how they would do it. Would we like to see that? Yeah, absolutely.”

___

AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Teresa M. Walker contributed.

___

Stephen Whyno And John Wawrow, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Quesnel Farmers’ Market is in full swing

The downtown market runs Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Forestry Ink: BC and Canadian pulp industry doing better

Regular columnist Jim Hilton looks at what is happening in the pulp and paper industry

Cottonwood House Historic Site opens with limited service for 2019

Capital upgrades are taking place at the site, but it’s still open to walkers, hikers and picknickers

Quesnel kung fu dojo holds tourney

Three clubs exhibited their skills for family, friends and instructors

West Quesnel’s West Village Community Garden hosting Plant Day May 25

Community members invited to come help plant vegetables and learn about the garden

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Victoria Day

How much do you know about the monarch whose day we celebrate each May?

Top women’s hockey player Natalie Spooner coming to B.C.

Natalie Spooner special guest at annual Grindstone charity weekend in Kelowna

Take-home drug testing kits latest pilot to help curb B.C.’s overdose crisis

Researchers look to see if fentanyl testing could be a useful tool for those who use drugs alone

Facebook takes down anti-vaxxer page that used image of late Canadian girl

Facebook said that the social media company has disabled the anti-vaccination page

Search crews rescue kids, 6 and 7, stranded overnight on Coquitlam mountain

Father and two youngsters fall down a steep, treacherous cliff while hiking Burke Mountain

Raptors beat Bucks 118-112 in 2OT thriller

Leonard has 36 points as Toronto cuts Milwaukee’s series lead to 2-1

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Rescue crews suspend search for Okanagan kayaker missing for three days

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Most Read