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CWHL Move Paints NWHL Into A Corner

It doesn’t seem that the NWHL and the CWHL are in the friendliest of phases right now. The news broke Saturday — the day before the 2015 CWHL Draft — that the CWHL had not yet released the eleven mystery players that are committed to filling out the NWHL’s ranks.

In fact, it seems these players had applied for release from their contracts months earlier, some of them since May.

In an article for Puck Daddy, Jen Neale found the rules for release from play via headhunting (as CWHLers making the jump to the NWHL would fall under this category) put forth by the CWHL. They are as follows:

By way of example, if a player, who signs with a CWHL Club and is included on the roster, is approached by league X to play for the current season – and the player wishes to play for the league X club. There are a few options open to the player.

1) Request a release from her contract with the CWHL Club. If this release is granted, the player will be free to join league X – but will be prohibited from returning to the CWHL for a period of 1 year.

2) Request a release from her contract with the CWHL Club. If the release is not granted, the player may refuse a position on the official roster and will be placed on the reserve roster. In this situation the player will be allowed to join League X but will be prohibited from joining the CWHL team’s official roster for one year, unless she returns to the CWHL prior to the October 4 Official roster deadline.

3) Formally resign from the CWHL. The player may formally resign from the CWHL and join League X – But the player will be prohibited from returning to any CWHL Club for a period of one year.

Regardless of the option chosen by the player, the player will be able to join league X, but will be prohibited from joining the active roster of a CWHL Club for a period of one year.

While the differences are subtle case-to-case, these rules make clear that any player who wishes to leave will be granted her resignation. In all instances, women are prohibited from playing in the CWHL for a period of one year (one assumes from the time of resignation), but there is no circumstance listed above where a player’s rights are held tied to the league if she wishes to withdraw.

Neale writes,

Just because the women aren’t paid in the CWHL doesn’t mean they can up and leave. They’re still under contract. Playing for the NWHL without going through the termination channels they agreed to, by signing the CWHL player agreement (pre-addendum), makes them vulnerable to contract violation lawsuits with monetary damages related to business losses attached and other legal perils.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, it’s not difficult to see why the CWHL wouldn’t want to let go of any of their established players.

And while the CWHL might gain an edge by placing these players in limbo so they couldn’t publicly declare for the NWHL, make media appearances, or, depending on how long this drags on, practice or even play in games for their new league, it does not set the stage for positive public relations or a relationship between the leagues.

When contacted about the situation, the NWHL only reiterated that out of respect for the players involved, the league could not comment.

But what penalties, legal or otherwise, could these players face should they decide to go ahead and announce with the NWHL before their withdrawal is complete? Per the 2014 IIHF International Transfer Regulations, if these players are national team players for either the U.S. or Canada, they could be prohibited from competition in an international tournament for up to six months, with a minimum of four months of suspension from playing in official national and international games during playing periods (p. 14).

Players could also be subject to fines between $5,000 CHF and $150,000 CHF for each game played without a valid transfer card (p.17). The exchange rate between the Swiss Franc (CHF) and the dollar (USD) is $1 CHF : $1.07 USD.

For many national teams, there is a small stipend attached to playing for your country.

It might not be an enormous amount of money, but it is meant to compensate players for the time they spend at the tournament and is some of the only money they could make from playing hockey, even completely putting aside the fact that, for women in ice hockey, playing for your country’s team is the highest of honors. Regardless of the nationality of these anonymous players, they would likely be upset at the prospect of losing that stipend, as well as being banned from competition, even for a short period of time.

The players would not be the only ones to suffer the consequences, however, should they throw caution to the wind and announce for the NWHL.

The 2014 IIHF International Transfer Regulations (p. 14) state that upon finding of breach of contract, the club to which the player is attempting to transfer is considered responsible for said players’ actions, and a ban of one season on international transfers will be imposed on the club by the IIHF. This would be a tremendous blow to the NWHL, a league that is just getting off the ground.

However, the crux of the matter — whether or not the CWHL players who are attempting to leave for the NWHL could face international playing penalties, as well as any transfer penalties that could be applied to the NWHL — lies in whether or not the IIHF considers the CWHL a professional league.

From the 2014 IIHF International Transfer Regulations:

A professional player under contract is a player who has concluded a written contract with an ice hockey club (signed by the player and the club) according to which he is compensated more for his ice hockey player activity (taking part in matches and/ or training sessions) than the expense he directly incurs through playing ice hockey. Contracts concluded between clubs and players must be of a specific duration.

Although players are not compensated financially for their play in the CWHL, pants, elbow pads, and helmets are provided by the league, as well as ice time, high-quality competition and coaching. These are all things the CWHL could cite should they be asked to prove professional status.

While this situation is far from over, the consequences of this move could be far-reaching for both the CWHL and NWHL, both in the public eye and professionally.

  • jenny

    what if this “player(s) have been waiting since may” bit. isn’t true? there’s nothing stopping a player for saying they’ve asked for a release and haven’t gotten it. nothing illegal about that. the cwhl has been clear they grant to all who ask. so why the anonymity with whoever this/these players are. i don’t believe it.

    and — what if the last wave of players to ask for releases (knight and national players) waited until the very last minute of nwhl free agency to ask — and there’s a normal and understandable delay? affirmative to any of these and your whole “corner painting”/adversarial frame for this article just dies. i will wait for a retraction/correction if that is the case.

    • Kate C

      Hi Jenny,

      Until I learn that none of the players who are still waiting applied in May, I’ll leave that paragraph as-is.

      That’s actually something I’ve been bringing up on social media and on the podcasts I’ve been on recently – as the whole story isn’t public, and with the draft coming up, it’s entirely possible the CWHL simply didn’t have the resources to get to all the releases in time. This article, however, focused instead on possible consequences for the NWHL and the potential NWHL players should they decide to forgo the proper channels.

      Feel free to email me if you’d like to continue this conversation.



      • jenny

        so, i asked some people who know these things in the cwhl and guess what they say? it’s categorically not true that players have been waiting since may.

        • Kate C

          Again, Jenny, we can take this to email if you want to provide information but this is not the place for the particular conversation you’d like to have.

          • jenny

            why is comments not the right place? people who read these speculative pieces which demonize the cwhl, can find some other info in comments. that’s what they’re for. feedback. and you are always using language that makes it seem like there’s something nefarious going on. your bias is palpable. but that’s ok. it’s a blog. so hey, how about a comment back?

            the real story here should be “hilary knight and friends wait til last minute and delay nwhl announcements.” they could have had releases months ago. this kind of behaviour is how the cwhl ‘strike’ happened. she/they don’t care how things work (including time) and screw up other players (by forfeiting games/stats), league business (including negotiating in a fair time frame, or negotiating at all), fans. whatevs. it’s a pattern.

          • Kate C

            Jenny, I think it’s pretty clear that I cannot change information in my article based on anonymous claims made in the comments. Again, I’m more than happy to take this conversation to email if you’d like to provide information backing up your comments, but if not, my hands are tied.

          • jenny

            it’s not information you have here regarding what’s holding up the player movement – it’s conjecture. you have no source but another blog that has no source. aside from the reprintings of player movement clauses, everything here is all based on weird rumours and your personal framing of the situation. your hands are not tied. it’s a blog. it can be edited.

          • Kyle

            She was totally going to ask for a release earlier, but she got sidetracked laying down her daily half hour of inane Snapchat story and forgot.

            Joking aside, I do think that this is sort of a “money on the table” situation, because the timing of a release request potentially changes the narrative quite a bit. If someone actually knows something, let’s hear it. If not, I don’t believe that repeating the same unsupported rumor as others is very productive – particularly since it seems like everyone wants to believe the best of the NWHL (and Hilary Knight and friends) and the worst of that oh-so-horrible CWHL that everyone was super into until literally five months ago.

  • jenny

    also it’s really nice to see the nwhl skaters in the picture wearing their CWHL issue gear (pants helmets gloves etc). classy of them.

    • bwestrick

      what is your official position within the CWHL? j/w

  • Sabrebrat

    I love women’s hockey, so the more ladies playing high level hockey the better in my opinion. That being said, I’m confused on what the hold up is for these NWHL mystery players. From everything I’ve read, the players requested a release from the CWHL (some as far back as May according to some articles), the CWHL has stated that everyone who has requested a release was sent a reply by the league. Unless the reply was “We’ve received your request and we will review”, I don’t see how the potential NWHL players would run into any legal issues. The contract termination rules clearly state that if they get a release they are are clear to play and if they are denied a release, they are still cleared to play. If all else fails they can still resign and be cleared to play for NWHL.
    What do these players fear is going to happen? What am I missing here? Either there is a terrible miscommunication happening or somebody is lying and that’s not helpful to the growth of Women’s Hockey!

    oh and Go Buffalo Beauts! Go Montreal Stars!

    • Kate C

      The issue is that, according to IIHF rules, if they declare for the new league before being released (and there is no timeline on the release) both their new league and the players can be heavily penalized. Thanks for asking! I’m sorry that wasn’t clearer in the article.

      (Go Beauts! Go Stars!)

      • Sabrebrat

        Thanks for the reply Kate. So I guess this boils down to the fact that the CWHL’s reply to the players who asked for a release was not an official “yes you are granted a release” or “no, you are not granted a release”. But instead, some sort of generic in between answer: “We’ll get back to you” ? If this is the case, that’s a pretty petty thing to do. I wish the CWHL would clarify this so we wouldn’t have to guess on important details like this.

        As a fan, I’d much rather focus on the build up to the start of the season for both leagues.

        • Kate C

          Jen Neale’s article indicates the CWHL responds to releases (as most businesses would do to acknowledge receipt of such an important document) within a particular time frame, and the process moves on from there. I’m not sure we can categorize it as petty, but an in-between step to ensure the player knows their request has been heard and will be dealt with in the future. The length of time between the acknowledgement and the official release is what becomes the problem for these players.

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  • jenny

    so turns out, as i suggested, that your angle and story are not just misleading but kind of false and unfair. i look forward to your rewrite. maybe you can also adjust your bias against the cwhl in your ‘reporting’.

    below — he’s a player agent, btw, right in the middle of things. first person. i bet since he tweeted this publicly, he’d be happy to discuss the player transfer proceedings with you.

    maybe ask the nwhl about their crunchy and weird negotiations with the released players. mention the labor board. and then get back to us all about that.

    • Jane

      You may be waiting for a long time. This agent reached out directly to the author via twitter on Sept 20 yet she continues to write inaccurate information.

      The author had posted a 1994 Shelley Looney Olympic card on her twitter account. The agent corrected the author to state that 1998 was the first year of Women’s Olympic Hockey.


      0 favorites

      • jenny

        she’s part of the blogger reflecting pool. where they repeat everyone else’s ‘analysis’ in an endless loop of misinformation and misrepresentation. It does a disservice to anything resembling journalism and hurts the women’s game overall, and its ability to be taken seriously.

        • Jane

          I think it was a missed opportunity as the player agent was open to discussion and had taken the initiative to tweet the author directly. It could have been a big scoop for this author. There is definitely a need for more women’s hockey coverage.

          I noticed the repeating strategy – done in a hurry too! Author had mistakenly stated that the Minnesota Whitecaps had been part of the NWHL and that Buffalo season tickets were $125 instead of $150 in her blogs before someone on twitter corrected her.

          In a blog this week, she stated that Four Olympians have not yet been released from their contracts with the CWHL. Someone on twitter tried to let her know that hey had received conditional releases. She said on twitter: ” Yeah that’s a totally different point from what my article was making. That’s a side note that has been already addressed.”

          I may have missed it but I have not seen this addressed by the author!

  • jenny


  • jenny

    please make a retraction/clarification story. trying sourcing sources. THE PLAYERS PAINTED THE NWHL IN TO A CORNER AND VICE VERSA.

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