It’s official: professional women’s hockey is coming to Ottawa.
On Tuesday, the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) announced the six locations that will host teams during the league’s first season, and Ottawa was a shocking addition to the list.
I say that it was shocking not because Ottawa is a bad choice for a professional women’s hockey team, but because it’s the only one of the six locations that didn’t already have a team. This new (and so far unnamed) team is building from the ground up, in a city with a lot of untapped potential as a market for women’s hockey.
Now, Silver Seven is a blog about the Ottawa Senators, and we have never had dedicated coverage of teams that are not affiliated with the Sens, at least outside of our periodic news roundups. However, everyone on staff is absolutely thrilled to have a professional women’s hockey team to follow in Ottawa, and we’ve gotten the sense that many in the Sens community, including readers of this blog, share our excitement. While we’re still working out the logistics, we’re hoping to provide some amount of coverage of the new PWHL team, likely in the form of weekly roundup posts similar to those we already publish for the Belleville Senators.
We know from years of running this blog that hockey is more fun when you’ve built a community around it, and we hope we’ll be able to provide that for fans of this new team.
Silver Seven’s coverage of (TEAM TO BE NAMED LATER) thus begins with the first major date on the PWHL calendar: the start of free agency, which happens to be tomorrow, September 1st.
As of the writing of this article, we don’t know at exactly what time tomorrow teams will be allowed to sign players. We also don’t yet know who the general managers are - that’s supposed to be announced today. Welcome to women’s hockey!
This league actually doesn’t have a salary cap; instead, there’s a mandatory average annual salary for each team, which is $55,000. The minimum salary is $35,000, and at least six players need to make at least $80,000.
Between September 1st and 10th, each team will be allowed to sign up to three players. After that, there will be a draft held on September 18th.
To my knowledge, no information has leaked regarding which players are signing where. We also don’t have a list of eligible players like we will with the draft, and with the league pulling from so many different women’s hockey leagues, it’s hard to know which direction things will go.
What we can assume is that the first 18 players signed to contracts will probably be some of the best and most recognizable players in the game – likely members of the Canadian and American Olympic teams. In listing the free agents to watch, I’ve tried to pull mostly from the PWHPA and not the PHF, because whether it’s fair or not it sounds like the people in charge of the league think that’s where the talent is. I’ve left off NCAA players, who can’t sign professional contracts without leaving school, so, no, Sarah Fillier and Emma Maltais are not on this list, although if Fillier decides to sign a contract this year she’ll certainly be one of the most sought-after players.
Also, right off the bat, Marie-Philip Poulin will almost definitely want to stay in Montreal, where she has spent most of her professional career, so don’t even think about it. Hilary Knight, as the face of women’s hockey in the US, will probably go to an American team. For the rest, here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the names you might hear:
I would further caution Ottawa fans not to get their hopes up about Natalie Spooner, who has spent her entire career in Toronto and just had a baby there. Her fellow team Canada veterans Brianne Jenner and Mélodie Daoust could be in play though, and of course Sarah Nurse as one of the biggest names in Canadian women’s hockey will almost certainly get a contract before the draft starts.
On the American side, veteran Alex Carpenter and youngster Abby Roque are some of the biggest names to watch out for, although they might want to stay in the US. Teams looking to invest in their future by signing young talent would be wise to look to Taylor Heise, but given that she’s from Minnesota and just spent 5 years playing for the University of Minnesota, that seems like the most likely destination for her.
Fans also shouldn’t overlook players from outside North America. We all know that hockey is a team sport and sometimes the best players get overlooked because they don’t play for the best teams. Pay particular attention to 25-year-old Swiss phenom Alina Müller, who moved to North America last year and was set to play for the now-defunct Boston Pride this season. She’s an absolute joy to watch and indisputably one of the best players in the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was one of the first players to sign a contract. Alina, if you’re reading this: Ottawa is sooooo much cooler than Boston. (Update: According to Hailey Salvian, who is a much better source on these things than I am, Müller is actually considered an NCAA graduate and can't sign a PWHL contract, even if she had a PHF contract)
Finnish right winger Petra Nieminen could also be in the mix for this initial free agency period, if she wants to move over from the Swedish league, where she’s been playing until now.
I kind of feel like I can’t write this section without at least saying something about Jenni Hiirikoski, who is indisputably one of the greatest defenders in the history of the women’s game. However, at 36 and only a few months removed from a horrific injury, I have no idea how realistic it is to consider her. This is the problem with not knowing the criteria teams are using when choosing which players to sign.
People who watch team Canada at the Olympics will recognize the names Jocelyn Laroque, Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast, who are all excellent veteran defenders who could end up being signed before the draft. I’d also pay attention to 25-year-old Claire Thompson, who was a real breakout star at the last Olympics.
On the American side, Megan Keller is the biggest name. The 27-year-old plays heavy minutes, has a good transitional game, and can contribute offensively. Veteran Lee Stecklein might also be worth paying attention to.
I’d also like to mention Daniela Pejsova, a 21-year-old Czech defender who won best defender at the 2022 world championship. Will she want to come to North America? Do North American GMs even know she exists? I have no idea. But I’m going to look like a genius if someone signs her.
I have absolutely no idea if teams are going to use their contract slots on goaltenders. None. If they do, though, one of the top names should be Ann-Renée Desbiens, who was Canada’s starting goaltender at the 2022 Olympic Games and had a great season in the PWHPA last year. Her backup at the Olympics, Emerance Maschmeyer, should also be one of the most sought-after goaltenders.
It should come as no surprise that a Finnish player is on the list of the best goaltenders in the game. Replacing Noora Räty is no easy task, but in recent years Anni Keisala has proven up to the task and might earn herself a spot on a PWHL roster.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that Ottawa will face similar challenges to the NHL team when it comes to attracting talent in free agency. It’s important to keep in mind that moving to a new city is often more challenging for women’s hockey players than it is for men’s hockey players. Because women’s hockey has historically not paid a living wage, players have had to hold full-time or part-time jobs on top of playing hockey. Even this new league is not offering a life-changing amount of money, and that means both that players might need to stay in cities where they work, and that there is less incentive for them to uproot their lives to move to a new city. Since Ottawa is the only PWHL city that didn’t already have a professional women’s hockey team, they’re going to be at a disadvantage.
I am saying all this to lead into a name that some of you might have heard already: Jamie Lee Rattray.
Rattray is from Ottawa and, from what I understand, a big Sens fan. She’s a big part of the community already and friends with a few Sens players - she even dropped the puck at a Sens game last season. She’s good enough that she’ll certainly have a spot on one of the teams but I wouldn’t call her one of the 18 best players in the game, so I doubt she’ll get a contract anywhere else before the draft. She’s worked really hard to make it in women’s hockey, playing in her first ever Olympic games at 29 in 2022. What I’m saying is that she would make the perfect first captain for this new Ottawa team, and I hope that ends up happening somehow even though I know there might be better players available during the initial free agency period.
Another element that makes women’s hockey free agency interesting is - and I almost can’t believe I’m writing about this seriously on my hockey blog but I swear it’s true - the fact that multiple players are openly in relationships with each other. Notably, this past summer Marie-Philip Poulin announced her engagement to team Canada teammate Laura Stacey. We can assume that Stacey will end up on the same team, but whether that will happen via a compassionate circumstances form or her signing a contract before the draft will remain to be seen. Petra Nieminen, who I mentioned earlier as one of the best players in the game, is dating team Canada’s Erin Ambrose, who is also definitely going to get a roster spot in the PWHL. Canadian goaltender Emerance Mashmeyer married fellow goaltender Geneviève Lacasse this summer. Anyone who follows a lot of women’s hockey players on social media could tell you that there are a lot more cases like these ones.
There are so many factors to consider in all this, and that’s part of what makes it so exciting. I’m so interested to see where all these players end up. It’s going to be so much fun to follow this team from the beginning. We're very excited to write about a women's hockey team in Ottawa and we're thrilled to have all of you along for the ride with us!
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