Annika Dyczkowski ’25
Monday, Sept. 18 marked a new era for women’s hockey at the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League draft in Toronto.
In 15 rounds, six teams drafted 90 of the top female players hailing mostly from the U.S. (29 selections) and Canada (48). In total, nine different nations were represented with Czechia garnering the most of any European country (five). This was a monumental step in the right direction for the unification of professional women’s hockey players.
In the past, women’s leagues have been littered with poor relations and subpar league standards and conditions. The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was the first senior women’s league, founded in 2015. The league was later renamed the Premier Hockey Foundation (PHF) in June 2021. The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) was founded in May 2019 by players as a result of their dissatisfaction with the NWHL. Midway through the NWHL’s second season, for instance, they announced to players they would be receiving a 50% pay cut; this decision resulted in a $5,000 minimum league salary per player instead of the previous $10,000. In addition to not receiving a livable salary, players frustration with the NWHL also stemmed from a lack of health insurance, infrastructure resources and training programs for young women. As a result of these vexations, over 200 players released a joint statement declaring their withdrawal from any North American professional league in the 2019-2020 season.
The grievances of these players and fragmentation within leagues desperately called for a restructuring of the professional women’s league; thus, the PWHL was born in August 2023. By June, both leagues had been liquidated and the PHF’s assets were sold to the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises.
King’s excitement for the endorsement of women’s hockey was seen at the press conference following the inaugural draft: “I have no doubt that this league can capture the imagination of fans and a new generation of players.” King delivered opening remarks and announced the first overall pick, Taylor Heise for Minnesota.
This breath of fresh air for professional women’s hockey is like nothing that has ever been observed before in women’s sports. Olympian and former Boston Pride star Hilary Knight, for instance, negotiated such benefits as a housing stipend and a $55,000 salary. This influx of resources opens the door for women’s players to demonstrate potential they never had the opportunity to display before, Knight proposes. “I think it’s exciting because you’re going to see players really come into their prime when they have never had the chance to before.”
This draft begs the question: what does this mean for the future of professional women’s hockey? The most important certainty worth noting is the league is the most sustainable and practical we have seen thus far. The transition from multiple women’s leagues with inadequate resources and funding to a conglomeration of top prospects in the same division is especially noteworthy. Great talent in the same competition implies stability, especially when its extensive funding promises livable wages, medical benefits and housing relocation compensation.