Women’s hockey keeps evolving in the PHF —here’s our wishlist for 2022/2023.
The past calendar year has brought significant changes to the top women’s hockey league in North America. The old NWHL is now rebranded as the Premier Hockey Federation, the salary cap has more than doubled, the league has secured its largest-ever national streaming deals with ESPN and TSN, and that’s just the start. Women’s hockey has never been more prominent and growth is all around, but let’s get selfish for a moment here. The sport still has a long way to go before it reaches the level of prominence it deserves, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some big progress in time for next season. Here are a few things we’d like to see in the 2022/23 PHF season to keep the progress coming.
Along with the announcement in January listing several changes coming to the PHF came news of upcoming league expansion. We know that there are two cities receiving franchises this upcoming season, and we know one of them is Montreal, Quebec. The other lucky city is yet to be announced, but you know we have some ideas.
The PHF first dipped into the Canadian market in 2020 with the Toronto Six. That team has shown immediate success, finishing second in the league’s standings while having as many fans in the building as possible through COVID-19. Their quick rise to the top in addition to the huge hockey market in Canada proves that another franchise in the country makes a lot of sense.
My first thought for the second expansion team was New York City, who formerly hosted the Riveters from 2015–2017. Since the Rivs have left the Big Apple, I think women’s hockey has evolved enough for that city to host a team.
Moving away from the northeast, I think Milwaukee would be a solid fit to add to the PHF’s midwest presence. Minnesota seems awfully lonely out there, and I think the sheer number of players in the league who played college hockey in Wisconsin shows that there’s a market in that state as well. Anyone who’s ever watched Minnesota play Wisconsin at the college level knows that this choice would create a PHF rivalry for the ages.
Finally, I think Chicago could be the perfect fit for what the PHF needs. First of all, the league gets another team in the midwest to continue the westward reach. Next, Chicago is a proven hockey market with the success of the NHL’s Blackhawks. And lastly, the city is close enough to Wisconsin and other midwestern states that players who played in college close by can feel right at home.
As I mentioned before, the PHF inked some big deals coming into this season. Most notable were the streaming deals with TSN and ESPN, which really improved how many people can watch PHF action. For all of the regular season and most of the playoffs, these games were streamed on the “plus” packages for each service and required fans to pay a little extra for access to broadcasts. Not that the price for each service is unreasonable, but it’s hard to build a fanbase when you can’t access the games without having ESPN or TSN plus. What I’d like to see next year is top-tier games picked up on national broadcasts like the Isobel Cup Final was this year, just to keep the league present in the casual fan’s mind. Women’s hockey should be accessible to everyone, not just fans who are willing to pay extra.
Part of a better broadcast comes in the quality of streaming. There were plenty of instances this season when I’d try to watch games on ESPN Plus only to find the feed looking like it’s from 2008. Not helping this issue is only having a single camera angle at games as well. It’s impossible to grow the PHF when the broadcasts suck, so I hope the league’s streaming partners can invest better and more cameras to cover games next season. Professional-looking broadcasts can make a big difference in people’s attitude towards women’s hockey, which can in turn lead to even more investment and growth.
A large part of the coverage available on the PHF is on social media. I’ve never seen more moments go viral in women’s hockey than I saw this season which definitely increases exposure for folks online. Hopefully the league can find a way to get some high follower influencers to partner with next season to keep leveraging social media to its benefit.
Heck yeah, it’s the best time of the year: playoff time. I can’t wait to see the league’s best teams battle it out and decide who’s really the best of the best. It’s hockey, so you know we’re going to see a great series where determination and grit decide who wins it all and—wait the PHF’s second-best team just got bounced on day one? Yes they did. It was so disappointing to watch the Toronto Six have their season ended because they played their worst game of the year on night number one in the Isobel Cup Playoffs. How can we fix this so it doesn’t happen again?
The only answer is expanding the playoffs. I think support for introducing a series for the Isobel Cup playoffs is near unanimous, and with the addition of two new teams next year, it’s almost imminent. Even if it’s just best-of-three series through the postseason, things will get a whole lot more watchable and entertaining. The PHF has grown so much in recent years; now it’s time for the playoffs to grow with it.
Public Salary Numbers
We briefly touched on the PHF’s announcement that the salary cap would be increasing to $750,000 next season. That’s a huge increase from this year’s $300,000 and two years ago’s $150,000 and I can’t understate how incredible this rise is. I’m so happy that these players will finally see somewhat of a livng wage for playing the game of hockey professionally. What I hate is that to this day, the exact figure each player earns isn’t known for sure because contract information isn’t public. I’ve tried many times on my own but I can’t think of a single reason a league would want to hide what kind of money its players make, unless there was an issue.
Let’s ditch the dramatics altogether and finally make public the details of PHF player contracts. This information will help players get competitive pay compared to their results and let the public rest easy knowing these athletes are earning what they deserve. All we know as of now is a league average figure, but that’s only if money is split evenly. Hopefully the influx of cash for the PHF allows them and the teams to finally disclose how much their athletes earn and to fight for better pay.
I know some of these are “pie in the sky” goals, but they’re all truly attainable. We’ve seen the Premier Hockey Federation boom in terms of fan engagement, revenue generation, and international coverage. It’s time to see this league continue its evolution to truly become one of the top-tier hockey leagues in the world.