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Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa announced as franchises in newly named Professional Women’s Hockey League

Three Canadian franchises are included in the newly named Professional Women's Hockey League that laid out details of where and how it will begin play in January 2024. Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa will join franchises in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the New York area in a 24-game schedule.

September draft and free agency will stock teams that begin play in January

Two hockey players battle for the puck.

Three Canadian franchises are included in the newly named Professional Women's Hockey League that laid out details of where and how it will begin play in January 2024.

Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa will join franchises in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the New York area in a 24-game schedule for the inaugural season. Players will be allocated to those cities through a free-agency period in early September followed by a draft on Sept. 18.

"Today, we look ahead to a phenomenal future for the PWHL," said Jayna Hefford, a former Canadian national team player and the PWHL's senior vice-president of hockey operations. "We have never seen more excitement and demand for women's sports, and through the launch of this league, the top women's players in the world will have the opportunity to reach even greater heights."

Teams will begin building their rosters with a 10-day free-agency period beginning Sept. 1, followed by the draft. The eligibility pool for the draft and free agency will include Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA) membership in addition to former Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) players, totalling about 300 people in total.

Teams may sign only three players in free agency. The first-round draft order will be determined by a lottery, while subsequent rounds will follow a snake format. current and graduating NCAA and U Sports players — a group that could include Canadian star Sarah Fillier — may only be acquired through the 15-round draft.

Stan Kasten, a league board member and Los Angeles Dodgers president, said he expected a full schedule for the season to be available in October, including some games at neutral venues in partnership with the NHL. He said subsequent seasons will consist of 32 regular-season games, expected to start in November, plus at least two playoff rounds.

WATCH | Hefford breaks down draft, free agency processes:

Professional Women’s Hockey League prepares for free agency and draft in September

4 hours ago

Duration 3:59

Professional Women’s Hockey League Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford spoke to the media as the PWHL announced its plans for an initial free agency period commencing September 1 and a draft on Sept. 18. The PWHL will have teams in Boston, Montreal, New York, Ottawa, Toronto and Minneapolis-St. Paul, and will play a 24-game regular season schedule.

Long road to 1 league

The league is coming together quickly after the PWHPA ratified a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with owners in July.

Along with the ratification of the CBA, Dodgers chairman Mark Walter and wife Kimbra Walter, the new league's sole financial backers, bought out and folded the PHF, the rival outfit featuring seven franchises which had been set to raise its salary cap to $1.5 million US this coming season.

The PWHPA was formed in the aftermath of the Canadian Women's Hockey League's 2019 collapse and features nearly every North American national-team member. Since then, it has rebuffed potential mergers with the PHF despite plenty of discussions and the urging of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Instead, PWHPA players competed on the Dream Gap Tour, a barnstorming series of weekend events funded partly by corporate sponsors.

Throughout it all, the union fought for a sustainable professional league complete with the bells and whistles befitting the world's top players. The PWHL promises to provide that.

"The journey to get us here has been long, it's been twisted, it's been empowering, but I'm not sure success comes in a straight line, so I think we're all excited today to move forward together," Hefford said.

Kasten said the league's relationship with the NHL is "consultative" for now. In a statement, the NHL congratulated the PWHL on its formation.

"We remain committed to supporting the women's game and look forward to working together with the PWHL to grow our sport," it said.

WATCH | U.S. beats Canada to claim gold at 2023 worlds:

Hilary Knight hat trick leads United States to world championship title over Canada

4 months ago

Duration 5:28

Hilary Knight's three goals included the winner as the Americans captured their 10th women's world hockey championships gold medal with a 6-3 win over Canada Sunday night.

Player salaries in the new league will reportedly range from $35,000 to $80,000 US, a small step backward from what PHF players were set to earn. Six players on each of the six teams will be signed to three-year contracts worth "no less than $80,000 per league year," per Tuesday's press release. Other players will be on one- and two-year deals.

Hefford said she hopes to have general managers for each team in place in time for free agency. The GMs will work with a central league hockey operations staff as the league helps each team build out its own support.

Player trades will be allowed beginning on the first day of league play, while draft picks cannot be traded until after the completion of the 2023-24 campaign.

Burke heads up new union

Meanwhile, former NHL executive Brian Burke was hired as the PWHL Players Association's first executive director. Burke, who last served as the Pittsburgh Penguins president through April, has a lengthy track record of involvement with women's hockey dating to 2013 when he was a CWHL board member.

Burke has a law degree from Harvard, and takes over for Hefford, who previously served as the union's chief consultant. Hefford had to step aside from her union duties because she is now part of the new league's executive team.

"Today is the most exciting day in the history of women's hockey, in my view," Burke said. "We are committed to a platform of fairness and equity and equality, and the core values that started this league will not ever change. … If you can play here, you can play. Don't worry about where you played before, we've got a spot for you if you make us better."

WATCH | Burke discusses launch of new league:

PWHL Players’ Association executive director Brian Burke: 'Most exciting day in history of women's hockey'

4 hours ago

Duration 1:05

Former NHL general manager Brian Burke spoke to the media after being named the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players’ Association executive director.

Canada's Sarah Nurse told The Canadian Press after the CBA was announced in July that the document was "the most important thing" in creating the new league.

"In my professional playing career, I've seen a few leagues come and go because of that lack of player protection and lack of communication between the league and the union," she said.

Included in the CBA is health insurance, a retirement plan, commercial rights, maternity leave and much more.

International flavour

Multiple PWHPA players told CBC Sports at April's world championship in Brampton, Ont., they hoped a pro title would reach the same status as international gold.

"That's the goal. That is the goal for sure. One day we'll get there. Obviously, it'll still be an honour to always represent your country, but that is going to be really important, that next step," Canadian defender Renata Fast said.

Hefford said the PWHL will be abiding by international windows and remains committed to international game, including a break in the 2026 season for the Olympics.

Kasten said the inaugural season may run until May or June, which would intersect with the 2024 world championship, which is set to be held April 4-14 in Utica, N.Y.

The U.S. is the reigning champion after beating Canada 6-3 in the gold-medal game.

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