There were perhaps no two New York Riveters who were promoted on social media as much as international stars Nana Fujimoto and Janine Weber before and during the 2015-16 NWHL season. The Japanese goaltender and the Austrian forward were two of the league’s most celebrated and publicized players long before the puck dropped in October.
The value of that name recognition was reflected in their contracts. Fujimoto and Weber were the Riveters’ first- and fourth-highest paid players last year. Before the season began, expectations for their contribution to the team’s success ran high and for good reason. Both players had the talent to make an impact in New York after proving their talents in international competition and–in Weber’s case–the CWHL.
Despite her combination of speed and skill, Weber scored just three goals and registered six assists during the regular season while averaging just over 2.5 shots per game. She was also held scoreless in two playoff games against the eventual Isobel Cup Champions. She may not have made the impact on the box score that she was expected to, but she was one of the Riveters best possession players at even strength and one of their most effective penalty killers.
Not only did Weber score New York’s only shorthanded goal of the season, she was also one of the team’s most reliable defensive forwards, making her a great fit with head coach Chad Wiseman’s “defense-first” approach to hockey. The two trades that Wiseman has made this offseason show just how seriously he is taking the Riveters’ need for skill and puck movement, but there remains ample room for a quick two-way player like Weber who could flourish with more talent around her.
Given Weber’s lack of offensive production, a strong case can and likely will be made for her next contract being smaller than the $19,000 deal she signed for the 2015-16 season. She wouldn’t be the only big name in the league asked to settle for less. Ashley Johnston, Alyssa Gagliardi and Jordan Smelker have all signed smaller contracts in their second NWHL seasons.
Fujimoto is another Riveter who didn’t live up to expectations last season. The Japanese netminder was the team’s highest-paid player with a $21,000 salary, but the goalie failed to live up to the outlook that had been created by her international play.
The case for a drop in pay for Fujimoto was outlined earlier in the month here on TodaysSlapshot.com. Her disappointing second half and postseason performance may be reason enough for her to take up less of the Riveters’ cap space in 2016-17, but her talent is still undeniable. New York was a better team when it had a healthy Fujimoto between the pipes, and it will be a better team if Wiseman can find a way to re-sign her.
With Alex Carpenter now out of the picture and traded to the Boston Pride, the Riveters need to ensure they can sign Hannah Brandt and their other assets from the 2015 NWHL Draft and bring speed, skill, and youth to a team that needs it. Weber and Fujimoto are important to the team’s success and future, but signing young talent from the 2015 draft is the greater need in both the long and short term.
As Seth Berkman detailed in his piece in the New York Times, international players in the NWHL faced serious obstacles regarding their employment away from the rink last season. Whether or not Weber and Fujimoto are able and willing to return to the Riveters remains to be seen, but both international stars have the talent and potential to be part of the solution in New York. The question now becomes will they return for less money to be part of that solution.
You can read part one of our series on rebuilding the Riveters here.