For much of the NWHL’s inaugural season the promise of free agency has been an enormous question mark, dangling at the end of the first year of play.
Thursday, the league announced an answer to some questions surrounding free agency. Each player had signed a one-year contract that would dissolve at the end of the 2015-16 season, leaving those who wish to re-sign with the league in the free agency limbo.
According to the league, the free agency period begins May 1 and ends July 31, during which time players who wish to play in the NWHL must sign contracts with one of its teams in order to be eligible for the 2016-17 season.
Prior to the opening of free agency, players may attend training camps and negotiate contracts with team general managers, giving themselves the opportunity to impress coaches with their play and possibly entertain multiple offers throughout the league.
But who would best benefit from a change of scenery or might be able to leverage a bigger payday from free agency?
Ward’s stock has gone up, up, up this season as she’s shown herself to be an absolute beast on the ice. She’s known for her hustle during games and has a penchant for hanging out around the net that has earned her the Player of the Week award once, when she scored back-to-back goals: the first in a game against the New York Riveters Saturday and then the next the following day.
Whether she’s interested in switching teams is unknown, but given her puck-gathering abilities, she’s sure to be able to increase her value by poking around at her options. Ward has 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 16 games and a whopping 18 PIM.
Ward would be a great depth addition to any team in the NWHL, but her gritty, nose-for-the-net style would be particularly welcome in New York, a team that loves grinders and needs goals. Another option is the Buffalo Beauts, where Ward would add some scoring depth. The Beauts have not seen much of that, with the vast majority of their goals coming from their top-six.
Belyakova usage on the Riveters has been head-scratching. She is, by reputation, the top goal-scorer on the Riveters, and has scored 5 of the team’s goals this season thus far, the second-most on the team. Belyakova has far and away the best possession metrics on the Riveters and her skating is superb.
The fact that Belyakova is not included on the power play unit is a huge surprise, considering just how few shots the Riveters put on net, not to mention how few goals they score.
If head coach Chad Wiseman returns to the Riveters and intends on using the same defense-first systems, Belyakova, and her free-skating style of play would be better suited to switching teams.
She would certainly see more ice time on Connecticut, and likely fit in well with the likes of Darkangelo, Faber, Stack et al. The last thing Boston needs is more scoring depth, so were she to set her sights on them she’d be facing a low salary, but it would be a great fit for the winger if she can tone down the PIM and focus on her skilled play.
Bellamy is a vital part of the Boston Pride’s defense, to be sure, but there are a number of teams across the league that are desperate for a stronger defense. New York, in particular, would be thrilled to have an offensive defender; its system frequently relies on shots from the blue line but not one of their defenders has scored more than once (and only one has actually scored on a shot from the point).
With Bellamy on the ice for the Riveters they would see their average of shots on goal upped, and likely an increase in their shooting percentage.
However, if a move to New York isn’t in the cards for Bellamy, Connecticut would also be a sound landing place for the defender. Although the Whale is a different team than it was a month ago due to a new coach and new systems, the Whale has suffered from inexplicable and seemingly random defensive breakdowns throughout the year, at least once a game.
Bellamy’s consistency and excellence at the blue line and transitional abilities would prevent more of these and would likely garner her a nice check come payday.