The new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) unveiled details of its inaugural season on Tuesday, including the "original six" markets.
With free agency, a draft, league hirings, and team names and venues still to be announced, a lot remains on the table. That said, players and fans now have a defined path forward leading up to puck drop for the PWHL season in January 2024.
With news still flooding out, here’s a look at what we know about the markets, free agency, and the PWHL Draft.
Meet the PWHL's "Original Six"
The NHL had its Original Six, and now the PWHL has theirs. The inaugural markets will be in Boston, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul). Five of those markets were part of the PHF — which was acquired earlier this year by the Mark Walter Group — who owns the PWHL, while Ottawa joins as the newest location.
In part, the locations were selected not only for fan base and geographic reasons, but also with NHL partnerships in mind. As Stan Kasten, a board member for the new PWHL, stated: the NHL has provided "extraordinary support" since the league announced its intentions to launch. In an earlier press conference, Kasten discussed the likelihood for neutral site games at NHL facilities in the PWHL’s markets, and across North America this season, as well as potential involvement of the PWHL in NHL All-Star festivities and outdoor games.
Among the PHF cities not making the cut (at least yet) for the new league were Buffalo and Connecticut, as well as other potential markets like London (Ontario), Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.
Free agency set to open September 1
Fans will get a chance to see some of the biggest names in the world sign with their future teams beginning Sep. 1, as a 10-day free-agency period begins. During that period, teams will have the option to sign up to three players. Any player not signed during this timeframe will be entered into the PWHL’s draft.
How each general manager approaches the three available spots will be at their own discretion, not the league's. Some could choose to target younger players and build a core for the future, while others could aim to bring in big-name stars to help them win now.
While those strategies may differ, it’s likely some names such as Marie-Philip Poulin — widely considered the best player in the world — will be among those to sign prior to the draft. Poulin has openly discussed wanting to play in Montreal, which could now become a reality. Her fiance and Canadian teammate Laura Stacey could also head to Montreal during this period.
Many players from the Canadian and American national teams, as well as other stars, have geographic ties and will be actively pursuing those initial roster spots. Players like Team USA’s Lee Stecklein and Finland’s Noora Raty call Minnesota home, while others like Alex Carpenter (Boston) and Aerin Frankel (New York) could also look to return to their hometowns.
On the Canadian side, there’s a plethora of Toronto-area players like Renata Fast, Brianne Jenner, Natalie Spooner and Claire Thompson, while Jamie Lee Rattray is an Ottawa-area product and players like Poulin and Ann-Renee Desbiens will hope to land in Montreal.
Similarly, many PHF players had purchased homes in their markets, or have other family and business connections to those locations, meaning players like Loren Gabel and Kali Flanagan (Boston), Jonna Albers and Amanda Leveille (Minnesota), and Madison Packer (New York) will certainly be looking to secure roster spots in their market of choice.
Fans hoping to see younger stars like Switzerland’s Alina Muller or Minnesota’s Taylor Heise lock in to their preferred markets will need to wait, as current or graduating NCAA players are not eligible for this free-agency period. Muller had signed to stay in Boston with the PHF’s Boston Pride following her NCAA career at Northeastern, while Heise, who is arguably the top American player available in the league, was graduating from the University of Minnesota. Both will need to wait to hear their names called in the PWHL Draft.
PWHL Draft to take place September 18
Following the 10-day period, which will see the first 18 players signed to compete in the PWHL, all remaining players who declare their intent to play in the league will be entered into the PWHL’s Draft.
The draft will take place Sep. 18 in Toronto and will feature 15 rounds. Here, teams will fill out the majority of their roster for the coming season. While players can be selected to any market, the league is providing players with the ability to apply, based on compassionate grounds, to play in a specific place.
Current NCAA and U Sports players are able to declare themselves eligible, although it may result in a loss of their collegiate eligibility.
Any player not selected in the draft will be eligible to sign as a free agent with any PWHL team, or negotiate a tryout. Teams will use their training camps, which open the week of Nov. 15, to fill out the final five spots of their 23-player rosters.
What happens next?
The hiring of general managers will occur this week, as free agency is set to open Sep. 1. While teams begin to fill out their rosters, the league will work to announce venues in each market, and also continue to build out league branding as the PWHL is currently without a logo, and none of the six teams have names or logos.
The league will also work to complete its inaugural 24-game schedule. The schedule will allow for participation in the 2024 World Championships in Utica, New York, and will expand to 32 games the following season, with regular-season play beginning in November moving forward.