Before aligning with the NHL, women's hockey should be careful what it wishes for

It might only be a matter of time before the NHL gets into the business of women's hockey, but given the league's history with other ventures, there's reason to be skeptical about how beneficial that will be to the long-term success of the product.
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Combine the folding of the most established women’s league in the world, the efforts of more than 200 players who believe they’re best serving the sport they love by not playing it and NHL teams increasingly pulling the chute on women’s hockey, it’s fairly easy to where all of this is going. And it leads directly to the Manhattan headquarters of the best league in the world.

It appears women’s hockey is doing a very good job of cannibalizing itself in an effort to create a scorched earth, one that will provide the NHL with the blank canvas it wants before it throws its considerable weight behind women’s hockey. Kim Pegula basically tossed the keys on the table by relinquishing control of the Buffalo Beauts and the New Jersey Devils pulled their support for the Metropolitan Riveters. The NHL has long been of the opinion that it will not get involved in women’s hockey while there are still viable leagues in place, so a good number of those involved in the game seem to be doing their best to ensure the way is paved clear.

So we’re going to go out on a limb and assume, whether it’s in the short- or long-term, that the NHL is eventually going to provide the engine that drives the women’s game. Good luck with that to everyone involved. It’s been said before in this space and it will be said again: be careful for what you wish.

To all of those people who think affiliating with the NHL is a good idea, it might be worthwhile to make one call to the International Ice Hockey Federation. Ask them how putting their faith in the Gary Bettman-led league turned out. There was a time two decades ago when the NHL decided it would be a good idea to send their stars to the Olympics, much the way it seems like a good idea to support women’s hockey now. The thinking was that by putting its product on the biggest stage in the world, the NHL would garner all kinds of new fans, both at home and abroad. So the NHL showed up for the Olympic Games and put on a great show…and then did absolutely nothing. Not a finger was lifted to leverage participation, such as, say, opening an office in Europe. The NHL essentially showed up to the event for 16 days and then went back to business as usual.

And when it didn’t see the bump in interest it was expecting, it simply took its puck and went home, but not before resurrecting the World Cash Grab of Hockey™, a tournament it won’t hold at the next appointed time because it coincides with a possible labor dispute. Nice.

Here is one man’s prediction regarding what will happen if the NHL gets involved in the business of women’s hockey. Things will be really good for a couple of years while the owners play with their shiny new toy. As time goes on and the NHL comes to the same conclusion that many in the game have already discovered, that the business model doesn’t work on a large scale, and it will cut corners. Then it will abandon the league it created, leaving the women’s game with a chasm every bit as big as the one it now faces, perhaps even bigger.

With all signs pointing to an inevitable alliance with the NHL, we’re about to find out just how much Bettman and his governors care about the women’s game. Just don’t be terribly surprised if it’s not as much as a lot of people hoped.

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