NWHL cancels expansion plans, open to talk of new league

Jonna Curtis, left, a forward on Team Stecklein, battles Michelle Picard, right, a defender on Team Szabados during the NWHL All-Star Hockey Game Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

The National Women’s Hockey League is cancelling plans to add a pair of Canadian teams for the 2019-20 season for now and making clear it is open to doing what’s best for women’s hockey.

Even if that means a new league.

The NWHL made clear in a post on its website Thursday titled "We’ll Always Do What’s Best for the Game" that league officials would be happy to talk.

"If any individuals or groups come forward and declare they are ready to start and invest in a new league where women can receive a substantial full-time salary and medical insurance, we would be ecstatic to have a conversation about a partnership or passing the torch," the league wrote.

More than 200 of the world’s top female players announced May 2 that they will not play professional hockey in North America at all this year in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league. They also formed a new Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association earlier this month.

The NWHL says the next season will start in October with five returning teams in the Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beauts, Metropolitan Riveters and Minnesota Whitecaps. The league says whether more teams are added for this season will remain an option for a few more weeks.

Kim Pegula and Pegula Sports gave back ownership of the Beauts to the NWHL earlier this month. The NWHL announced last week increased salaries and a 50-50 split of sponsor-related revenues and improved benefits in an agreement reached with its players’ union.

Once the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced it would be ceasing operations May 1 due to financial issues, NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan told The Associated Press in April that the league’s board had approved an investment plan to establish teams in Toronto and Montreal.

On Thursday, the NWHL says whether more teams will be added this season remains an "open-ended question" for a few more weeks.

"We are exploring all options to build our league," according to the NWHL.

The NWHL wrote that the league had secured the investment needed to add at least two more teams.

"To expand properly, as we did in Minnesota, time, co-operation and preparation is required," according to the NWHL post. "We would love to have more teams in 2019-20 and will make it happen if there is a spirit of partnership from all sides. Unless there is a change of heart soon, we will revisit expansion for the 2020-21 season."

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