Throughout the free agency signing period all four NWHL teams put their own unique stamp on things. Priorities differed, not just in the stripes of players signed to different positions, but in what qualities general managers looked for and valued.
The New York Riveters got faster, more skilled and significantly stronger on defense. Buffalo, too, revamped its defense to tremendous success and added high-skill players at the blue line. The Whale, on the other hand, took a significantly different approach than either New York or Buffalo.
What did we learn from the Connecticut Whale? What player qualities and coach/GM concerns came through in Giovanelli’s handling of the Whale’s finances and roster?
Money is there to be spent
There are differing approaches to managing money. Some people will save all day, won’t part with it even when forced to. Others will throw it away at anything that crosses their path. During free agency, it appeared that the Whale fell in the latter category.
Of all the NWHL teams, Connecticut comes closest to being a meritocracy. Giovanelli told Today’s SlapShot shortly after taking the position of general manager that she was working with head coach Heather Linstad to set up a system to award players with contracts based on their contributions last season.
Giovanelli put the Whale’s money where her mouth is and spent to the $274,000 cap (after Connecticut was given a $4,000 draft tax from the New York club), leaving nothing in the tank for more-expensive trades.
Many returning Whale players were given a raise, some larger than others. Micaela Long, for example, earned a raise of $3,500 bringing her up from the minimum $10,000 salary. Long scored seven points over 18 games, building to a strong finish. Jordan Brickner, a defender, returned for a $7,500 raise from her first contract.
Kelli Stack, the highest-paid player in the league last season at $25,000 also was deemed meritorious of a raise, which tied her with rookie Amanda Kessel for the highest salary of the 2016-17 season at $26,000.
Giovanelli was not afraid to use every last dollar she had available to her to make the Connecticut team stronger, deeper and more appealing to young players.
After the move to Northford, Conn., the Whale became a harder sell to some players who preferred to live in and around the greater New York City area. In response Giovanelli cottoned on to something important: sometimes a little extra money can go a long way with potential players.
The last is less of a lesson and more of a reminder:
A defender’s primary role is to defend…
Giovanelli and Linstad spent the offseason stocking up on a defensive roster that should be able to solve their transition problem from last season but was not particularly heavy on the offensive pressure.
While all of Connecticut’s blueliners have put up points in the past, only Ivana Bilic and Cydney Roesler can truly be called offensive defenseman, the former with 61 points over her college career at Bemidji State and the latter with 50 points garnered throughout her time at Quinnipiac University.
While neither Bilic nor Roesler’s offensive capabilities are anything to sneer at, they pale in comparison to those of, say, Courtney Burke, the newly-signed New York Riveters defenseman who scored 108 points in her four-year career at the University of Wisconsin. The message is clear: Connecticut’s defenders have been contracted to defend the blue line first and foremost.
As for the Whale’s problems on transition last season, the defensive corps is full of strong skaters, who may well be called upon to move the puck out of the Whale’s zone themselves.
…and forwards score the goals.
On offense, Connecticut picked up a tremendous puck-mover in Dana Trivigno and a sniper in Haley Skarupa. Skarupa in particular will be called upon to score as many goals as possible; the forward out of Boston College racked up 244 points during her four years on the Eagles, although Trivigno’s 138 points will also set the stage for a strong showing around the front of the net.
With Kelli Stack (another Boston College graduate) and Kelley Babstock, who tied for highest points-scorer on Connecticut’s roster, should the Whale defense falter, the team will still have the option of simply out-scoring its opponent for a win.
Depth additions such as Nicole Kosta and Nicole Connery will also make their mark on Connecticut’s forward squad, holding the line and keeping Connecticut’s offensive momentum strong against teams with excellent defense — which at this point is the rest of the NWHL. The Whale will find it a challenge to notch goals against New York, Buffalo and Boston but the trio of Trivigno, Stack, and Skarupa may very well be Connecticut’s saving grace.