The NWHL is the newest pro hockey circuit on the block. But it sure is making up for lost time in a hurry.
It's already North America's first paid professional women's hockey league. And, this week, it did something even the NHL took decades to do: publish complete salary breakdowns for every player and roster. We revealed the league's 10 highest-paid players Monday. On Tuesday the NWHL published the full list with help from CapPro. You can peruse the one-year salaries here. They're sortable by name, team, nationality and cap hit.
The social media reaction upon learning the salary numbers has ranged from optimistic, viewing the shift from no pay to at least $10,000 per player as a huge victory, and pessimistic, noting the athletes will still earn less than minimum wage.
Dani Rylan, the NWHL's commissioner and founder, sees the glass as half full and perhaps even overflowing. After all, she points out, it's a sixth-month season. Every player earns five figures and has another six months of the year to supplement that income.
"This is a great first step, and we would love to see it eventually get to a point where it can be a one-and-only job," Rylan said. "But it is pretty special that a lot of players in the league will be making up to or over a thousand dollars per game, which is pretty remarkable."
Rylan, 28, played hockey her whole life, all the way up to the NCAA Div. I level, where she captained Northeastern University. Living the game, she dreamed of playing in a pro league. She didn't end up down that path but, with help from advisor and U.S. hockey ambassador Angela Ruggerio, Rylan successfully got the four-team NWHL off the ground for an inaugural season, which starts Oct. 11. Who is the league's primary funding source? Multiple sources have indicated to THN it involves an investor with strong family ties to one of the players – but Rylan won't disclose who it is at this time.
The four-team league consists of 18-player rosters under a $270,000 salary cap. Each franchise also has four practice players who will be paid on a per-game basis should they draw into the lineup. Rylan, who doubles as GM of the New York Riveters, believes this template is just the beginning. She says she hopes to find herself negotiating a bigger cap with the players in future seasons, depending on how much hockey-related revenue the NWHL brings in. She also has her sights set on expansion.
"It's never too early to start thinking about growing the game, and obviously we did our research in picking our markets," she said. "Thirty-three percent of all U.S. girl and woman registration is in the Northeast, in New England and New York, and we are very aware hockey was born in Canada and Minnesota is 'The State of Hockey.' Our goal is to make Year 1 as successful as possible, but there will come a time when those markets will be hard to ignore."
She's smart to keep expectations realistic and focus on making the four-team circuit flourish in its maiden voyage. Though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has pledged his public support for the NWHL launch, there's been no indication the NHL will make any tangible financial commitment to the league, or the rival CWHL, for that matter. Rylan's league, and its independent investor(s), are on their own for now and must show they can sustain themselves before dreaming about expansion.
But with the promise of pay and even health insurance for its players, the NWHL has broken exciting new ground. Would we rather see these athletes make enough money to sustain themselves year round? Sure. But that can't happen overnight. Even NHLers held separate jobs when their league began. Every organization has to start somewhere.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin