Six inaugural franchises revealed for new PWHL

The new Professional Women’s Hockey League was officially revealed Tuesday with six inaugural franchises and a 24-game regular season that begins in January 2024.

The PWHL will feature three teams in the U.S. and three teams in Canada. The American franchises are located in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the New York City area. The Canadian franchises are located in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Details on home arenas, team names and logos are forthcoming.

The 2024 season schedule will be announced in the coming months. It’s expected to include a break for the IIHF women’s world championships in April.

Rosters for the inaugural season will start forming during an initial free agency signing period commencing Sept. 1. The majority of the league’s founding players will then be selected during the 2023 PWHL Draft on Sept. 18.

The PWHL says it is in the “final stages” of securing six general managers for the franchises, all of whom are owned and operated by the league.

The PWHL is funded by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter and wife Kimbra. The Mark Walter Group purchased assets of the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) in June to effectively dissolve that league in order to launch the PWHL as the only pro women’s hockey league in North America.

The PHF was founded in March 2015 as the National Women’s Hockey League, which at the time was the first women’s professional hockey league to pay its players. It was rebranded in Sept. 2021. Five of the six PWHL franchises are in cities that had PHF teams during the 2022-23 season, save for Ottawa.

The demise of the PHF ended a multiyear feud between that organization and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, which was comprised of stars from the U.S. and Canadian national teams. Those players were unwilling to join either the NWHL or the PHF, citing a lack of faith in their business models. The PWHPA toured North American arenas, playing a series of USA vs. Canada exhibition games in preparation for international tournaments.

The PWHPA had been working with the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises for over a year to create a league of their own to compete with the PHF. Instead, the years-long journey to “one league” ended with the disbandment of the PHF with the formation of the PWHL.

The new league is supported by a Board of Directors that includes King, sports executive Ilana Kloss, Dodgers President Stan Kasten and Dodgers senior VP of business strategy Royce Cohen.

“On behalf of ownership and our board, I am honored to announce the official name of our new league, and to unveil the blueprint for this historic inaugural season. And we are especially proud to be providing this new platform for elite women athletes,” said Kasten. “Our great game has the power to captivate and connect sports fans everywhere, and we are thrilled to plant roots in six of North America’s most passionate hockey markets.”

Jayna Hefford, the commissioner of now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, is the PWHL’s senior VP of hockey operations. Longtime NHL executive Brian Burke, who was fired as Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations in April, will help run the PWHL Players Association.

Any players interested in the 2023-24 PWHL season must declare for the draft by Sept. 3. There will be a 10-day free-agent period from Sept. 1-10. ahead of the draft in which teams can sign up to three players each. Current or graduating NCAA or collegiate program players aren’t eligible for this preliminary free agency period.

Per the PWHL collective bargaining agreement, teams can have up to 20 players signed in advance of November’s training camps. Six players on each team will be signed to three-year contracts of “no less than $80,000 per league year.”

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