There is less than a week left in the NWHL’s free agency, and approximately two thirds of its roster positions have been contracted out. Still, some important signings have yet to happen.
Each team has tackled free agency differently – some went hard after their preferred players early while others have been forced to sit back and and wait for contracts to be hammered out over a period of months.
What do teams still need to sign to make themselves contenders for next season’s Isobel Cup trophy?
The Pride has simultaneously the biggest and smallest job to do. While its general manager, Hayley Moore, has signed only seven players to its 17 open roster positions, she is left waiting on the large cadre of Olympic players who made Boston the toast of the league last season.
Names like Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Amanda Pelkey, Gigi Marvin and Kacey Bellamy will make Boston once again into an All-Star team.
The team also gained big names such as Alex Carpenter, whose player rights were traded from the New York Riveters to Boston, reportedly at her request. Carpenter, if she signs with the league, will likely join at the same time as the rest of the national team player bloc.
Not everything has been roses for Boston despite taking home the winning regular-season record and earning the first Isobel Cup win. The Pride lost 2015 draft pick Emerance Maschmeyer, an elite goaltender out of Harvard to the CWHL. They have also seen the departure of depth players, such as Corinne Buie, but to its credit has retained others of significance, such as Jillian Dempsey and Blake Bolden.
Additionally, with national team player signings taking longer as they negotiate together, Moore is left cooling her heels with a large chunk of her team wrapped up in these proceedings. However, the likelihood of the NWHL not finding a way to get these contracts signed before the start of the season is almost nonexistent.
Buffalo has, thus far, built a solid team but aside from Kelley Steadman, lacks any big stars. That may not be a real issue for the team from upstate New York.
Instead, it has high-quality players who put up strong numbers but might fly under the radar, such as Sarah Casorso, a standout at camp, netminder Amanda Leveille, fresh out of the University of Minnesota’s women’s hockey program, Olympian Lisa Chesson, and returning skill players Shelby Bram, the Browne-Kunichika-Skeats line.
This is how Buffalo built a solid, skilled team with great chemistry last season (though having the second-highest number of Olympians on the roster can’t have hurt, either).
Buffalo is likely to welcome back captain, and dynamic defender, Emily Pfalzer to the ice, as well. Megan Bozek is another name that can’t be ignored, leaving the Beauts with what could turn out to be a deep defensive corps.
However, the anticipated loss of Meghan Duggan on offense sets the Beauts back a bit. General manager and head coach Ric Seiling will need to add one more puck-moving defender in order to maintain the momentum on transitions Buffalo had with Duggan in the lineup, who always found a way to connect with a defender and move the puck out of her zone.
The team out of Northford, Conn. has moved slowly this offseason and hasn’t quite determined its direction yet.
The Connecticut Whale, similar to Buffalo, currently lacks some big stars up front and size throughout.
The Whale re-signed skilled veteran players like Sam Faber, Kelly Babstock and most recently Micaela Long, all of whom can bring a scoring touch up front, but who are not at the same level as Olympic players such as Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker. They need a star (or three) on the forward lines and the roster, such as it is, may not be enough to entice national team players back such as Kelli Stack and Shiann Darkangelo.
On defense, Jordan Brickner and Shannon Doyle were brought back, both of whom excelled as stay-at-home defenders. To ensure some offensive balance within the defensive corps, general manager Lisa Giovanelli also signed a puck-moving defender in Cydney Roesler, who comes to the program straight from Quinnipiac University, just down the road.
Roesler is, so far, the only scoring defender the Whale will be able to rely upon on a regular basis. While Boston College grad Kaliya Johnson is a serviceable defender in terms of adding points, she, like Doyle (a Boston University product), flourishes most in a defensive defender role, blocking shots and keeping a tight gap.
This lack of offensive production from the back end could prove problematic for the Whale, as it did last season.
Molly Engstrom, the Whale’s Olympic defender who was supposed to be the linchpin of what turned out to be a somewhat mediocre defense, has not been mentioned in signing talks.
New York Riveters
The Riveters have had a dynamic offseason, building a team that has speed and skill throughout, and some serious size on the back end. New York has been ahead of the pack at all twists and turns, with head coach turned general manager Chad Wiseman going hard to rebuild the team quickly.
The Riveters first season was a disappointment to fans, players and coaches alike, finishing last in the league in everything but goals-against despite the positive attitude and work ethic of the team. It was a difficult season for the flagship franchise of the league but fans have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season.
After signing Amanda Kessel to a historic $26,000 deal, Wiseman loaded up on skill players like Milica McMillen, Courtney Burke, Michelle Picard, and Miye D’Oench, not to mention returning impact players like Madison Packer, Kiira Dosdall, Ashley Johnston and Morgan Fritz-Ward.
On defense the Riveters got bigger – in height, not contract size – and Wiseman also snagged the goalie with the best save percentage from the inaugural season for the league-minimum salary. The Riveters look practically perfect on paper and could very well be the team to beat come the Isobel Cup Final.