Monday, 9 May 2016

Could the CWHL become home to unsigned NWHL free agents?

While no one likes the idea of being “sloppy seconds”, the hockey landscape may undergo another tremendous change this offseason resulting in more player movement, potentially between both leagues (again). Although the CWHL managed to hold its own against the NWHL in 2015-16, simultaneously continuing to build its brand, there may be a new reality to consider this offseason.


As the inaugural NWHL Draft Class from 2015 becomes eligible for play (only players that have completed their junior season of college are eligible for the NWHL Draft), that results in another 25 players being part of the league’s talent pool. Although Emerance Maschmeyer became the first player from that draft class to register for the 2016 CWHL Draft, determining whether other picks, especially Canadian-born players, shall make the same decision will gain clarity after July 31, the final day of NWHL free agency.

Should players become draft picks in both leagues (albeit in different years as the NWHL drafts players after their junior season of university hockey), it will draw comparisons to the rivalry for talent that existed between the NHL and the WHA in the 1970s. Taking into account that the NWHL featured a small handful of Canadian-born players on three of its rosters, an eventual migration north of the border is something to consider in the seasons to come.


Signing the picks definitely represents the next step in the process of shaping the rosters for the 2016-17 NWHL season. It is likely safe to assume that at least 10-15 picks will sign, resulting in several players looking for a new team, and perhaps a new league.


The beneficiary may prove to be the CWHL’s Boston Blades, who endured one of the worst seasons in league history, managing only one victory. Compounding such woes was the fact that the franchise captured the Clarkson Cup in 2015 (albeit with a much different roster), suffering a horrible fall from first to worst.


Considering that the likes of Alex Carpenter and Kendall Coyne are now members of the NWHL’s Boston Pride, it will drastically alter the makeup of the team’s roster. In addition, the Connecticut Whale signed Kaliya Johnson (Carpenter’s teammate at Boston College) along with three Canadian-born players that all played for Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. Theoretically, all of these players could have been prospects in the CWHL Draft. Undoubtedly, the result shall be that some skaters, especially practice players, from the 2015-16 NWHL rosters will possibly be looking for new places to play in 2016-17.


As so many of the players on the Pride and Whale had grown up in Massachusetts and other regions of New England, any unsigned free agents may quickly look to the Blades as an alternative, allowing them to remain in the game while hoping to catch on with another NWHL club. Although this may not be how the Blades envisioned themselves, such talent could help prevent another one-win season and ensure that a postseason berth in the 2017 Clarkson Cup playoffs is a strong possibility.


For a Blades roster that was nothing short of decimated in the previous off-season, the franchise must place itself in a position to consider all possibilities, even if it means signing players discarded from the rival league. With due deference, the upcoming season shall prove crucial in determining the future of the Blades franchise and more possible CWHL hockey in America. Another one win season could only seal its fate, therefore, attracting the best talent available, regardless where they played last season, will need to be the reality of doing business.


Once again, the landscape of professional women’s hockey is poised to undergo another significant change. While the arrival of the NWHL in 2015 resulted in a highly viable and successful situation for the women’s game in the United States, providing four new teams to extend player’s careers, the possibility of many players looking for a place to play in 2016 leads to a sort of double cohort. Despite the growing number of available players, there are only so many teams in each league to accommodate talent.


Although professional sports, male and female, is truly survival of the fittest, there has been so much significant change in the women’s game that there will be some casualties that are part of the growing pains. Even though both leagues have casually discussed expansion, such ambitions have proven to be a downfall for so many other leagues in numerous sports. A painful reality in the growth of female pro hockey may be the lack of spots available, similar to the days of the NHL’s Original Six. While it ensures that the quality of the game shall be high, part of the contingency plan for the future may include determining if a developmental league for displaced players makes sense.

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