PHF salary disclosure updates and player signings — A surprising retirement — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, July 22, 2022

The PHF rolled right along this week, with several big dominos beginning to fall. Most notably, the Boston Pride began to announce their player signings. 

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Initially the Pride seemed committed to repeating last year’s decision to release their roster all at once, but they have definitely changed their strategy this month. The first signing they announced was McKenna Brand, one of their alternate captains, who was a 2022 All-Star selection. Brand is a cornerstone of the current Pride team, who has racked up seventy-five points in sixty-four career NWHL/PHF games. 

The Pride also re-signed Meghara McManus for her third season with the team. McManus has provided a lot of energy and some depth scoring on a team that definitely has built some of its reputation around being tough in the dirty areas, which she is impressively good at for a player her size. 

The two newcomers the Pride have announced are recent Harvard graduate Becca Gilmore, another strong, powerful forward, and longtime Minnesota Whitecap Allie Thunstrom. Dan Rice for The Ice Garden reported a while ago that Thunstrom was going to make the move to Boston, but seeing it officially announced was still difficult for people to process after Thunstrom has spent her entire professional career repping the ‘Caps. Thunstrom shared a heartfelt post about her time in Minnesota, but it’s an open secret that she was not able to work something out with the Whitecaps, much like Audra Morrison. Thunstrom is a perennial All-Star and likely still the fastest player in the league at thirty-four. Boston will be ecstatic to have her, and Thunstrom, a Boston College alum, is no stranger to the market. That being said, it’s more than a little concerning that Minnesota either wasn’t able to make it work or wasn’t interested in making it work with a player that many people feel has been synonymous with the name ‘Whitecaps’ for years.

Rumors have been circulating for a while that the Pride are re-signing defender Kali Flanagan, another All-Star and an Olympic champion. Her contract will reportedly be the largest in PHF history at around or just over $100,000 Average Annual Value (AAV), outpacing even the sizable deal Mikyla Grant-Mentis was signed to in Buffalo. 

I mentioned this on Twitter, but it bears repeating. This is the first year in league history where players can sign to a two-year deal, and the $750,000 salary cap is significantly larger than it has been in the past. The average salary (around $37,500, although I don’t actually think average is a useful statistic in this case) is still not a living wage anywhere in North America. Players are weighing a lot more than their male counterparts would be, and “making the most money possible” is not everyone’s game plan in a world where most of them will need supplemental income or support from their families. Given the landscape of the sport, the amount that each player is paid as salary is definitely not a great indicator of their on-ice value. I don’t think anyone in the league would argue, for example, that Amanda Leveille is less important to the Whitecaps than Flanagan is to the Pride. She’s getting paid less, certainly, but it’s almost impossible to draw conclusions from salary at this stage in the league’s history, beyond basic math. 

Additionally, salary is not the only way that players can be compensated. Teams are now explicitly able to offer other forms of compensation, such as relocation stipends and signing bonuses, that further complicate anyone’s attempt to make a statement about each players’ “worth.”

Other players who have signed in the past week include Emma Greco in Toronto, a solid stay-at home defender who will provide stability for the Six and their blue line. The Metropolitan Riveters also bolstered their blue line, signing former Buffalo Beaut Emilie Harley to a one-year contract. Harley is an impressive skater despite her height and collected ten points in twenty games for a Beauts team that had difficulty finding the net. It’s likely that her impact on the Riveters, if she gets enough ice time, will be significant. 

Finally, the Buffalo Beauts added another forward, signing UConn graduate Summer-Rae Dobson. Dobson spent four years with Mercyhurst University before finishing her career with UConn. She is a balanced player who is as capable of playmaking as she is at getting the puck in the net, and will be reunited with her former Mercyhurst teammate Emma Nuutinen in Beauts blue. 

All has been relatively quiet on the PWHPA front as we wait to see whether there will be some kind of interim showcase structure or something similar between the Dream Gap Tour and the rumored league. However, former PWHPA and Team USA forward Dani Cameranesi did announce her retirement this week. 

Cameranesi, at only twenty-seven, is the latest in a long history of players retiring in their statistical prime. She spent one season with the Buffalo Beauts in 2018-2019 before joining the PWHPA where she was a member of the Minnesota hub until her retirement. She had three points (two goals and an assist) in seven games during the 2022 Olympics. She retires with a 2018 Olympic gold medal, two World Championship titles, two NCAA championships, and an Olympic silver medal. 

The PHF has also announced an update to their salary disclosure policy that will allow players to share their salaries publicly. This has been in the works for a while, beginning with work done by Mike Murphy to collect reported salaries in one place. Eventually the PHF Players’ Association returned to the bargaining table with the league to negotiate an addendum to player contracts. The end result is that players are now able to publicly disclose their salaries, if they would like to. 

There’s an important caveat, and some other important notes that provide context for this agreement. Most importantly, there is still a limitation on players’ ability to disclose. Disclosure requires an agreement between the player and the team’s general manager. In practice this means that the freedom to disclose their salaries is hampered by a few different things: the risk that their general manager won’t allow it, the potential fallout from that conversation, and any other personal reasons players might have not to disclose their salaries. There are plenty of reasons why a player might not want to disclose, and nobody should be forced to. However, requiring a general manager’s agreement significantly hamstrings what appeared to be a very positive development for the sport. 

That being said, this is still a step in the right direction. Perhaps most importantly, it’s an incremental change to the culture of the sport. Players have begun, for the first time, to consider making their salaries public, and what the effects of that transparency can do for their teammates and colleagues. The Players’ Association is not yet a union; and I understand the concept of unionization can be daunting and complex—but it is necessary, and hopefully the conversations that are spurred on by this policy update will help the players become more accustomed to the idea of real collective action. 

Mike Murphy reflected on the process and the importance of this step over at The Ice Garden.

Finally, a note on another important conversation happening this week. Women’s hockey is unique in a lot of ways, but in many ways it is no different than any other sport or industry. The PHF is the latest in a long list of sports leagues who hire and retain executives with a track record of at best abrasive and at worst emotionally abusive behavior.

Digit Murphy’s employment with the PHF has been fraught with controversy since she publicly aligned with a bigoted focus group seeking to eliminate the participation of trans athletes in women’s sports. Although she did eventually apologize and is no longer associated with the group, the journey to that point was marked by a period of first ignoring the outcry and then a series of non-apologies that only worsened the situation. In short, it was a PR nightmare for the Six—and then the Boyntons, who own the Metropolitan Riveters as well—decided to hire her in New Jersey. When they did, the issue resurfaced, leading to her eventual apology. 

This week The Victory Press published a piece that adds some more context to Digit’s involvement with the league. It includes stories from former league employees that paint a pretty damning picture of Murphy, and anyone who would hire her knowing what kind of environment she creates around her. 

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Written by Eleni Demestihas