Commissioner Gary Bettman says NHL won’t interfere with NWHL

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

There will continue to be plenty of questions in the coming weeks and months as we sort through the aftermath of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League shutting down.

One such question has been centred around the NHL and the likelihood of its involvement. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about this during an appearance on Prime Time Sports Tuesday evening.

“I don’t think we have a responsibility to fund the business of other leagues. They have investors, they have a business plan,” he said. “I’ve been pretty clear publicly and in discussions I’ve had with both leagues, and I didn’t believe and don’t believe that the current models are sustainable in the long-term — either one of them. Unfortunately the prophecy was correct for the CWHL.”

The CWHL’s board of directors announced on March 31 that it will cease operations, effective May 1. The news sent shockwaves through the hockey world and left a league’s worth of exceptional women’s hockey talent without a team to play for.

So, does Bettman feel the NHL should step in?

“What we have said is, if there’s no opportunity for women to play professional hockey, then we would explore what would make sense or might be appropriate,” Bettman said. “But by the same token, I didn’t want to be presumptuous or be even bully-like and say we’re going to start a league and put them out of business. I didn’t think that was appropriate. If the NWHL is successful, great. That’s terrific.”

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The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), now the lone professional women’s hockey league in North America, made public plans a few days after the CWHL’s announcement to expand to Toronto and Montreal in time for the 2019-20 season.

Bettman made it clear he believes in the women’s game and the NHL understands the importance of young kids being able to grow up with female role models on the ice. But he acknowledged the idea of an NHL for women is, “even under the best of circumstances, a very challenged business model.”

The NHL contributed $50,000 to both women’s leagues last season and Bettman confirmed the full $100,000 will go to the NWHL this year.

“I’ve told [NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan] that if she is successful, we will not interfere. But ultimately it’s on her and her investors to either make a go of this or not and it’s up to the players to decide what they want. But if there is a void, then we will focus on what might be appropriate at the time,” he said.

Bettman said a sustainable business model would likely need the resources the NHL has, and “if we have to do that, I’m not going to turn that over to another entity where we’re responsible for it.”

Looking around the sports world, you can point to the NBA’s support of the WNBA as an example of a successful partnership to grow the women’s game.

“My understanding — and it’s a distant understanding — it that [the WNBA] is not self-sustaining without the NBA’s support,” Bettman said, when asked about the relationship between the two leagues. “And that’s why, if we get involved, we will not have the option of letting it fail. And if that’s our responsibility, then there’s an element of control we would have to be prepared to assume, obviously.”

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