NHL asks PWHPA and PHF to meet in pursuit of forming a unified women's league

Madison Square Gardens, the iconic arena which hosted the Dream Gap Tour, prior to puck drop. (New York Rangers/Twitter)

The NHL has asked the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association and the Premier Hockey Federation, the two major professional women's hockey organizations in North America, to meet in an attempt to reach an agreement that would bring the two sides together, according to Sportsnet's Jeff Marek.

Details of the proposed meeting, Marek says, are now being worked on.

News of the potential meeting comes amid a period of substantial change — and growth — amid both the PWHPA and the PHF.

In January, the PHF made public the details of its board of governors’ investment — a $25-million infusion that will see $7.5 million directed toward the upcoming 2022-23 season. The league’s salary cap will rise 150 per cent, from $300,000 to $750,000. Players will receive full healthcare benefits plus 10 per cent equity in their teams.

Members of the PHWPA were informed over the weekend of a multi-million dollar funding deal that would allow their proposed league to move forward, Marek reported. The commitment on the deal is expected to be in the range of eight to 10 years.

Details of how the proposed league would operate remain unknown at this time, though many have thought an ideal scenario would involve NHL franchises on both sides of the border co-sponsoring women’s teams that would compete in a regular-season schedule followed by playoffs.

The PWHPA already lists 10 NHL teams as partners, including Washington, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia. Many teams however, according to Marek, have been hesitant to partner with any women's league without the blessing of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

For its part the NHL, as a broader entity, has long held the stance on professional women's hockey that it is not in a position to provide fiscal support while there are two competing leagues, though the specifics of how a merger would come to be remain unclear.

The soon-to-be eight-team PHF, which was founded in 2015, is North America’s only women’s professional hockey league until the PWHPA's proposed league is actualized.

PWHPA members have, historically, tended to balk at joining the PHF while in pursuit of establishing their own league in which players receive livable wages, health care and have dedicated access to training and practice facilities.

The PWHPA was formed three years ago following the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. In that time, the association has attracted enough corporate and media broadcasting partnerships to base players in five hub cities — two in the U.S. and three in Canada — to practice and compete against each other expense-free in a series of barn-storming weekend events across the continent known as the Dream Gap Tour.

The most recent tour stop, for which Sportsnet was a broadcast partner, was held in Washington in February. Just last week, the PWHPA partnered with the Penguins to hold a "Rivalry Rematch" between Canada and the United States hosted by Pittsburgh.

Excitement over the prospect of the PWHPA's league inching closer to being realized has grown immensely in recent weeks, fuelled in part at least by Canada’s electric victory over the United States at the Winter Olympics.

“I think we’re not that far off," Brianne Jenner, a forward for Team Canada, said. "I think there is a market out there, and a lot of people want to see this level of women’s hockey on a regular basis."

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