What the NWHL Salary Cuts Mean for Women in Hockey

Kyla Lane
November 20 2016 09:00AM

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If you Google the NWHL, its Wikipedia page comes up with (2015 - ) beside its name. If you Google the NHL, there’s no date beside it. This could mean absolutely nothing, but considering Friday’s events regarding the NWHL, it seems to be an eery reminder that the National Women’s Hockey League seemingly has an expiry date attached to it. While I realize this topic lacks the Oilers, I also think that the downfall of the first professional women’s hockey league that promised to pay its players is a topic that all hockey fans should be concerned about.

The hockey world is a business and women’s hockey doesn’t make any money. Tough words to swallow for some, but it’s nearly impossible to deny. My heart is heavy knowing that women have made another push to break a barrier and were forced to take another step backwards. If you look at the following article based on what you logically know the world to be, you will probably say, “Why should I care? The women’s game isn’t nearly as entertaining as the men’s and frankly, I don’t care about it.” And that’s a perfectly logical statement to respond with. But I’m urging you to step away from the idea that this world is essentially one large business transaction and think about the world from the perspective of someone who can be the absolute best at what he or she does, and have it still not be enough.

The Promise

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The current National Women’s Hockey League was founded by commissioner, Dani Rylan in March of 2014. The league, made up of the Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, and New York Riveters, saw its inaugural season take place last year. The big kicker? The female players were actually paid to play hockey during that season, a feat that had yet to be accomplished in the realm of women’s hockey in North America. But what about the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, you say? No pay cheques there, my inquisitive friends, only passion for the game and the chance to be difference-makers for our continent’s female youth.

Despite the fact that the salaries only ranged from $10,000 - $26,000 , the NWHL committed to paying their athletes, making it easier to get import players, covering equipment costs, and giving the athletes a pay cheque for their services to the game. Something the CWHL has never committed to doing... yet.

The Downfall

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Ashley Johnston, Captain of the New York Riveters, comments upon hearing the news of the salary cuts

Late Thursday evening the news broke that the NWHL would no longer be able to pay their players the amount each contract originally stated. While Rylan hasn’t confirmed nor denied this, it is reported that the already measly pay cheques will be cut in half . Business did not go on as usual, attendance is down at games, and the league is no longer able to pay their players the amount inked on paper less than two months ago.

What’s the Big Deal?

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So a women’s hockey league turned out not to be sustainable. Who cares? We’ve still got “real” hockey, am I right? While I am joking, that could’ve passed as a completely viable statement for some that may not have even gotten this far in the article. And that’s been a sad reality for the NWHL, unfortunately. 

I’m no mathematician but if the league minimum was originally set at $10,000 (the NHL’s 2016 league minimum is $575,000, in case you were wondering) and that salary is being cut in half, that would mean that these players are making as little as $5,000 per season. Barf. I feel like I could make $5,000 being a webcam girl (sorry, just a joke to lighten the mood). Anyway, these women deserve better. The little girls dreaming about the day they’ll lace up their skates in their first professional hockey game deserve better. Every woman on the planet deserves better.

“Hey, Kyla, stop feminist-ing at me.” Sorry, I have to do it. I’ve been a female for 24 years now and it would be silly if I wasn’t on the side of my own gender, right? Follow me here for a second. If you have a mother, a sister, a niece, a daughter, a girlfriend, a wife… you should probably care, too. While this particular incident is directly related to hockey, we shouldn't ignore the societal implications. Let me break this down as best I can:

  • NHL players make millions of dollars a season to play a game they love. Fans spend thousands of dollars a season on tickets to watch a game they love. The NHL’s revenue is astronomical because men play hockey and we throw money at them.

  • NWHL players make thousands (barely) of dollars a season to play a game they love. Fans spend (maybe) hundreds of a dollars a season to watch a game they love. The NWHL’s revenue is peanuts because we don't value women's hockey as highly and we don’t throw money at them.

I’m not going to tell you that women’s hockey is on the same level as men’s hockey, because it simply isn’t. I’m also not going to tell you that I believe it ever will be on the same level, because it won't be. I will tell you that I believe it deserves to be supported on a much higher level than it is right now. But, this will never happen if the state of the women’s game stays as it is right now.

What needs to change?


I’m not sure there’s anything that frustrates me more than seeing the talent, dedication, passion, and willpower of the female athletes competing in this sport, yet seeing little to no progression in terms of recognition and pay. While I am not in any way claiming that I am aware of how to run a successful business/league, here are some points to be considered:

  • Combine the two female professional hockey leagues in North America. Women have a hard enough time having to prove that they deserve to compete in sport as it is, why the hell does North America have two leagues competing against each other? While I understand there are “business-related” reasons for the two leagues, something needs to be done to combine the two so that women’s hockey has its best chance at being viable.

  • The NHL needs to step up. Apparently, the NHL has said that it doesn’t want to choose sides between the two leagues and the partnerships we see between some NHL teams and CWHL teams are entirely due to that specific team’s desires. Maybe if the two leagues combine, the NHL wouldn’t have to pick sides. The NHL could pump some money (because, you know, they don’t have enough) and promotion into the women’s game and we may see it grow like the WNBA has. But this would require Bettman releasing his greedy little fingers from his mad stacks of cash.

  • Sports networks also need to step up. Women’s hockey needs to be televised on a more regular basis than just the Clarkson Cup and Isobel Cup finals. Let’s get some broadcast deals in progress for these women. ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO TELL ME THAT BROADCASTING POKER AND DARTS GETS YOU MORE VIEWERS, TSN and SPORTSNET? And if you are (which is very possible) then I fold on that last line but also shake my head at people who would rather watch cards than women playing hockey.

  • Give it a chance. Will you be as entertained by women’s hockey as you are with the men’s style that you’re used to? You might be pleasantly surprised by the level of hockey you witness. These women are the best in the world and we should start throwing some support their way. Maybe then some of the dollars can follow.

Like I said, I’m no expert on the workings of a hockey league, I can barely put a budget together myself, but I do know that something needs to change so that female hockey players and little girls with dreams can finally feel like they matter. If you’re a woman, or a man with a woman in your life, you shouldn’t sit back and be okay with what this pay cut means to this league. These women are at the pinnacle of their sport and they’ve had to work just as hard to be paid a thousand times less (my math MAY not be correct on that one) than their male counterparts. What is this saying to the women of this world? That you can be the master of your craft, but never receive proper recognition because there’s always going to be men who are better at it than you are. Get outta here, world.

For the sake of the women in your life, give some of your time to encourage, validate, and make these incredible women who have to fight harder than their male counterparts feel like they are worthy. Hockey may just be a game, but the discrepancy we see in this sport speaks volumes to the change we should hope to see in the world.

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OilersNation intern by day, goalie by night. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @TheNationKyla.
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#51 ollkorrect
November 20 2016, 01:01PM
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One more thing:

In an earlier post, I asked why people don't want to consider the idea that there are women capable of playing hockey with men, and nobody has offered an answer.

I want to ask it again, in an Oilers context.

Will Acton played games for the Oilers. Does anybody think that at that time, there wasn't a woman in the world who could have taken his spot in the roster, and been a better player?

Or, as a more fun scenario to imagine: do you believe that there could be a team of women that could beat a team of Will Actons in a game, hitting or not?

This isn't a sarcastic rhetorical question! I really would like answers.

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#52 Boom or Bust
November 20 2016, 01:06PM
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Why aren't more women supporting this sport? Shouldn't they be filling the arenas and watching every game. I had no idea it even existed.

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#53 dabears318
November 20 2016, 01:10PM
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You identify the reasoning for why women in hockey aren't paid much (pure economics) then STILL go on to write an emotional puff piece whining about it.

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#54 L
November 20 2016, 01:16PM
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Instead of bashing Kyla every article let's just stick to bashing Willis please. NERD!!

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#55 Rob...
November 20 2016, 01:20PM
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The women in my life don't give a frig about hockey. Though I do know men what don't care about hockey, or sports in general, I'd say they make up less than 10%. Of the women I know, including those active in sports, I'd say no better than 25% care about hockey enough to watch a regular season game in its entirety. Now convince a portion of those to watch a version with inferior talent, regardless whether you're talking WHL or NWHL. Good luck with your quest. I'd rather continue pushing towards more interest in STEM for women.

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#56 El Guapo
November 20 2016, 01:41PM
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@ollkorrect

There is no way possible that there was a woman in this world who could have taken Will Acton's spot, as poor an NHL player as he was. Much stronger, faster, harder shooting, and likely more agile. As mentioned before, you're talking about the top female team being equivalent to a Midget AAA team. The physical gap between men and women is much too great.

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#57 dsanchez1973
November 20 2016, 01:47PM
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This is like saying the Oilers have worked hard and been very dedicated over the last decade, so they deserve to win a Stanley Cup this year.

Sports is not a "somebody deserves". Sports is a "you earn it". I agree the women's leagues should merge to give themselves the best shot. I don't agree that the NHL or networks should "step up" (whatever that means) to try to force people to like women's hockey.

There are millions of people who engage in a sport or passion of their own. Just because you love something passionately and devote everything you've got to it doesn't mean you deserve to make a living doing it.

This whole post is millenial thinking at it's finest.

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#58 dsanchez1973
November 20 2016, 01:49PM
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ollkorrect wrote:

One more thing:

In an earlier post, I asked why people don't want to consider the idea that there are women capable of playing hockey with men, and nobody has offered an answer.

I want to ask it again, in an Oilers context.

Will Acton played games for the Oilers. Does anybody think that at that time, there wasn't a woman in the world who could have taken his spot in the roster, and been a better player?

Or, as a more fun scenario to imagine: do you believe that there could be a team of women that could beat a team of Will Actons in a game, hitting or not?

This isn't a sarcastic rhetorical question! I really would like answers.

The Acton City Actons would win this game by as many goals as they wanted to, and the womens team would never score.

http://nesn.com/2014/01/u-s-womens-olympic-hockey-team-preparing-for-sochi-games-by-playing-boys-high-school-teams-in-new-england/

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#60 dsanchez1973
November 20 2016, 02:02PM
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Kyla Lane wrote:

Nah, it's like saying they don't deserve to win it, but they deserve the chance to win a Stanley Cup this year.

Not really. The women *have* been given a chance - leagues have been set up, teams have been formed, tickets have been put on sale. For whatever reason, the public isn't buying what they're selling, and that's not necessarily anyone's fault - I'm sure they wouldn't buy tickets to watch me play no matter how dedicated I was or how hard I worked.

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#61 OilFarmer
November 20 2016, 02:20PM
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ollkorrect wrote:

One more thing:

In an earlier post, I asked why people don't want to consider the idea that there are women capable of playing hockey with men, and nobody has offered an answer.

I want to ask it again, in an Oilers context.

Will Acton played games for the Oilers. Does anybody think that at that time, there wasn't a woman in the world who could have taken his spot in the roster, and been a better player?

Or, as a more fun scenario to imagine: do you believe that there could be a team of women that could beat a team of Will Actons in a game, hitting or not?

This isn't a sarcastic rhetorical question! I really would like answers.

Why aren't women capable of playing with men?

Just wait for the first time that she gets in a scrum and someone the size of Pat Maroon or Milan Lucic doesn't think and puts a glove in her face. The idea of women in the NHL even if they were skilled enough to play is insane. It's a contact sport and the minute you hit a woman it's all over the highlights and appalled. Won't ever happen.

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#62 OKC 'Red' Baron
November 20 2016, 02:24PM
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ollkorrect wrote:

Ok but do you really, really believe that if girls' youth hockey was allocated anywhere near the resources boys' hockey is, it wouldn't produce high quality female hockey players?

Surely you realize that there are women out there who are physically stronger, and more athletic than you are.

I guess my question is, Why? What is the actual reason you think high end sports should and will remain boys clubs forever?

To answer your question: Maybe it is MEN are 1000% more athletic? Nothing against the Gals, but it isn't even close in any sport. Beach Volley Ball? Well, that is another story :)

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#63 FISTO Siltanen
November 20 2016, 02:52PM
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Since I got 6 trashes for my page one comment and not a single follow up with anyone taking accountability for why my comment warranted their trash I'll say this:

Look at that photo of the Winter Classic you have in this post.

Now, remember these words from Ray Ferraro during the 2004-05 lockout when asked on Team 1260 about potential replacement players, including Rocky Thompson and Rob Ray, being used if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement for the 2005-06 season:

"You could tell me that Rob Ray is playing hockey on my backyard rink right now and I couldn't be bothered to look out my kitchen window to watch."

Read those words, look at that women's hockey game at the Winter Classic and know that it was probably included in the price of admission, and then re-read that quote.

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#64 David S
November 20 2016, 03:06PM
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OKC 'Red' Baron wrote:

To answer your question: Maybe it is MEN are 1000% more athletic? Nothing against the Gals, but it isn't even close in any sport. Beach Volley Ball? Well, that is another story :)

There's a 13 year old "gal" at our tennis club who's ranked #9 in the country. She trains with the U18 boys regularly, who also happen to be "pretty good". If you played her this 13 year old "non athletic" gal would utterly humiliate you.

It's not about athleticism, it's about power, which males start to acquire around 14-15 years old. Up until then it's almost dead even. I've had the pleasure of seeing many gifted female athletes dominate their male counterparts at that age.

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#65 Robin Brownlee
November 20 2016, 03:11PM
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"Will Acton played games for the Oilers. Does anybody think that at that time, there wasn't a woman in the world who could have taken his spot in the roster, and been a better player?"

You mean a woman promoted to the NHL by the Oilers after slugging it out and surviving in the minors like Acton did? Got to get that far first, no?

"Or, as a more fun scenario to imagine: do you believe that there could be a team of women that could beat a team of Will Actons in a game, hitting or not?"

Without hitting? Not even close. With hitting? The result would be so one-sided it would make you weep.

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#66 CDNinATL
November 20 2016, 03:56PM
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David S wrote:

There's a 13 year old "gal" at our tennis club who's ranked #9 in the country. She trains with the U18 boys regularly, who also happen to be "pretty good". If you played her this 13 year old "non athletic" gal would utterly humiliate you.

It's not about athleticism, it's about power, which males start to acquire around 14-15 years old. Up until then it's almost dead even. I've had the pleasure of seeing many gifted female athletes dominate their male counterparts at that age.

I agree with you. There are women here in the US South that play on bantam boys travel hockey. My son plays travel A bantam as a goalie. Last year, they had a girl who played defense on his team. She had no problem laying a check or taking one.

That said, I'm pretty sure that's when most stop. I don't think I've seen any girls on any U16 teams.

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#67 jbuzzed
November 20 2016, 04:56PM
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baggedmilk wrote:

Your attitude towards life in general is a travesty.

Haha I adore you @baggedmilk

Wonderful article Kyla! I agree on all counts. As a woman and hockey lover I wish more could be done. I still remember how entertaining the women's gold medal game at Sochi was. I was sitting on the edge of my seat.

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#68 OilFarmer
November 20 2016, 05:31PM
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David S wrote:

There's a 13 year old "gal" at our tennis club who's ranked #9 in the country. She trains with the U18 boys regularly, who also happen to be "pretty good". If you played her this 13 year old "non athletic" gal would utterly humiliate you.

It's not about athleticism, it's about power, which males start to acquire around 14-15 years old. Up until then it's almost dead even. I've had the pleasure of seeing many gifted female athletes dominate their male counterparts at that age.

So if she is ranked 9 in the country in tennis what would the result be if she played the number 9 ranked male of the same age range in the country?

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#69 L
November 20 2016, 07:47PM
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OilFarmer wrote:

So if she is ranked 9 in the country in tennis what would the result be if she played the number 9 ranked male of the same age range in the country?

Yes we all took sex Ed in school. But i know a personal trainer and she's absolutely massive and can out powerlift any male I know, clean and jerk, deadlift, squat. I would not mess with her and I'm not a small person

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#70 David S
November 20 2016, 08:02PM
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OilFarmer wrote:

So if she is ranked 9 in the country in tennis what would the result be if she played the number 9 ranked male of the same age range in the country?

It'd be pretty close. I've seen her go toe to toe with high ranked 14 year old boys. Like I said, they start separating around 15. But the difference isn't athleticism.

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#71 L
November 20 2016, 08:08PM
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David S wrote:

It'd be pretty close. I've seen her go toe to toe with high ranked 14 year old boys. Like I said, they start separating around 15. But the difference isn't athleticism.

In the NHL, NFL, NBA, these guys can hire top notch nutritionists, chefs, personal trainers. With the horrible pay cheques these girls are getting is the issue. And hitting like many others says would need to be legal. But it's a flawed system. If it wasn't I'd follow it for sure. The development is not their for female sports

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#72 wiseguy
November 20 2016, 08:52PM
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L wrote:

Yes we all took sex Ed in school. But i know a personal trainer and she's absolutely massive and can out powerlift any male I know, clean and jerk, deadlift, squat. I would not mess with her and I'm not a small person

We all know that women who are elite athletes are stronger than most couch potato men. The question is how they compare to their male elite athlete counterparts. Serena Williams is the prime example. She is superior physically to any women's tennis player in history and has dominated her sport with power and speed. How would she do against the top 10 male player?

The record serve by a female is 131mph. The record for men is 164mph, a full 20% faster. Assuming that serve speed is an indicator of overall strength/speed, starting 20% behind is like the Eskimos trying to come back today. Even Serena admitted that she wouldn't stand a chance against the top 100 men.

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#73 Oil Vice
November 20 2016, 10:43PM
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No disrespect to women's hockey but it's just a really long way from being a legitimate attraction. They could really use a phenom to be the face of the game and take the torch from Wickenheiser. Does she exist yet?

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#74 OKC 'Red' Baron
November 20 2016, 11:09PM
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David S wrote:

There's a 13 year old "gal" at our tennis club who's ranked #9 in the country. She trains with the U18 boys regularly, who also happen to be "pretty good". If you played her this 13 year old "non athletic" gal would utterly humiliate you.

It's not about athleticism, it's about power, which males start to acquire around 14-15 years old. Up until then it's almost dead even. I've had the pleasure of seeing many gifted female athletes dominate their male counterparts at that age.

It's not about athleticism? It is about Power? How many softball playing GALS could sniff a Major League Mound? Zero. You could take the best Women's College Basketball team (usually UConn) and they would lose by 40 or worse by the 100th Best Men's team...Even the Coach of UConn admitted as much. If someone mentions the fact that Men are 1000% more athletic and have 1000% more 'power' than women it doesn't make you sexist, it is the truth. I believe it is great for Women to get involved in sports for the same reasons men get involved, but the reality is I rather watch Division III Hockey Game than the Women's Final 4 in Basketball...and 99.99999% of the viewing public would agree with that. Does that mean Most Men (and Women by the way) are somehow Sexist? Of course not.

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#75 Gravis82
November 20 2016, 11:55PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Since you feel like you speak for the entire community feel free to cover my support.

I would rather not to be honest. While you are busy doing more important things than supporting inferior hockey, I'll gladly take your tickets to the world juniors and the memorial cup, maybe college football or NCAA or march madness too while I'm at it. Because who would watch those inferior leagues. Quality is just not there when you have the NHL and NFL and NBA, totally agree.

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#76 Gravis82
November 21 2016, 12:15AM
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I have no idea why mens hockey is even mentioned in the comments. This was about women's hockey. Women did worse than men In every Olympic sport, and no one cares. It's not a relevant comparison. What matters is that a hockey league is failing in our backyard and we did nothing about it. Create the market, like everything else. This is an Opportunity to show the world what we value. This is not just like a failed business or summer baseball seniors league. This is symbolic, it matters. I can guarantee that no one reading this thread will ever be a rabid fan of women's hockey, me included. But I can also guarantee that if we dont find a way to help this league now, there won't be a thriving womens league with big dollars big competition and loyal fans in 75 years from now either. This is how things start, with a visionary when things look bleak.

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#77 Devolution
November 21 2016, 01:54AM
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I think that whether they are competitive with men or not isn't the point. The NHL should support one or both of these leagues just because it is the right thing to do. Period.

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#78 dsanchez1973
November 21 2016, 07:42AM
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David S wrote:

It'd be pretty close. I've seen her go toe to toe with high ranked 14 year old boys. Like I said, they start separating around 15. But the difference isn't athleticism.

Yes the difference is 100% athleticism. Claiming otherwise is ridiculous.

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#79 Dave240
November 21 2016, 09:20AM
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Spydyr wrote:

Midget AAA teams beat Olympic woman's hockey teams. The caliber of hockey is not that good. That is the bottom line. It will always have a niche but that is about all.

Completely agree. If it was a better product, I would absolutely watch. Unfortunately there is too large of a gap in talent right now.

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