What the PHF expansion to Montreal means — Breaking down noncompete clauses — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, July 15, 2022

This week, PHF news dominated the women’s hockey news cycle again as the Federation announced a seventh team joining the league this fall. The new team, which will be located in Montreal, has generated lots of hype already despite not yet having a name or logo. 

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Holly Morrison over at The Ice Garden wrote a rundown of what we know so far.

The PHF has hinted at a Montreal franchise for years, since the Dani Rylan era. Some of the most impactful players in Hockey Canada’s history are from Quebec, including Caroline Ouellette and, of course, Marie-Philip Poulin. While I wouldn’t expect Poulin or any of the current national team pool to show up on a PHF roster just yet (more on that later), there are plenty of former national team players, and players outside the national team pool, who would make the Montreal franchise a juggernaut from day one. 

The team’s President Kevin Raphael is a well-known figure in the Quebec hockey scene, with connections to many former CWHL players from the Montreal Stars and Canadiennes days. 

As for the PWHPA, last season they announced the Dream Gap Tour stop in Nova Scotia would be the final such event. Initial reports suggested the PWHPA planned to launch a league in January of 2023, which would explain the end of the Dream Gap Tour. However, despite major outlets reporting a league was imminent, nothing firm has materialized. As of now, sources familiar with the PWHPA are reporting that a league might begin play in the fall of 2023. National team players like Poulin and Hilary Knight have already foregone competition in a league for years, and they’re not likely to renege on that now. That being said, several former PWHPA players outside of the national team rosters already have signed in the PHF for the 2022-2023 season. As it stands, for players who would like to play a normal season of games in North America, the PHF is currently the only option. That, along with increased salaries and expansion, has made it a more attractive option than it was even a year ago. 

Jonathan Tannenwald with The Philadelphia Enquirer reported last week that the Flyers are in talks to support a PWHPA team in Philadelphia. 

In my opinion, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pittsburgh, D.C. or Chicago as potential US markets. All three cities have supported or hosted PWHPA events before, and the Penguins have hosted the PHF more than once, demonstrating legitimate interest in the game. That being said, as Jonathan pointed out, nothing is set in stone, and it’s difficult to know if Fall 2023 is a realistic target with what little information has been made available to media or players. 

My podcast recommendation for the week is Net Growth, a women’s hockey analytics podcast hosted by three geniuses and people I consider friends and colleagues, Alyssa, Carlie and Mike. You can listen to their most recent episode here

There have been a few more PHF signings this week as well. Buffalo added forward Michaela Boyle. Boyle graduated from Boston College but had her best two college seasons at Robert Morris University. If she can produce half of what she did as a Colonial, she will help the Beauts scoring depth a lot. 

The Whitecaps added forward Liz Schepers, who just had a career year with the Ohio State Buckeyes, finishing with 48 points in 38 games. 

The Riveters added yet another international player when they signed Finnish Olympian Anna Kilponen. For a team whose blue line struggled mightily last year, the Riveters look poised to bounce back on that front.

Notable retirements so far this off-season include the Boston Pride’s Paige Capistran, who will focus on her broadcasting career, and Audra Morrison, who last played for the Minnesota Whitecaps. As I mentioned last week, the Whitecaps roster construction has left several veteran players with no real offer. Morrison is a casualty of their rebuild, and as a fan favorite and a dominant scorer, it’s difficult to understand the decision-making process there. 

Speaking of PHF, a note on non-compete clauses, which have become a hotly debated topic in this space as players push for salary transparency:

Non-compete clauses bind someone to an agreement not to compete, as you might guess, with the other party. While I don’t have my hands on a copy of the most recent player contracts, I’ve seen earlier versions, and have seen many such clauses in my day-to-day work as an attorney. 

A few things to know:

  • Noncompete clauses are not universally enforceable. They can be present in a contract and still be unenforceable, if one party should choose to sue based on a violation of the clause. States (and provinces) each treat these clauses differently. There’s usually a test applied by the court to determine whether the given clause is too restrictive or not.
  • The PHF non-compete clause is very likely aimed at preventing players from bailing on their PHF contracts in the middle of the season to play for another league. Given the contention between the PHF and PWHPA, it’s not a surprising clause to see in player contracts. If the PWHPA does start its own league, it’s likely that neither league would be keen on players having the ability to move from one to the other mid-season.
  • The PHF has advised players that this clause is not intended to prevent them from playing for their national teams. This also makes sense, given that most of the new PHF leadership has ties to either USA Hockey or Hockey Canada.
  • I’m not going to give a legal opinion on the usefulness or the appropriateness of a non-compete clause in this context, or whether this particular one is enforceable in various markets, but in general they are seen as heavily favoring the employer (in this case, the PHF). They’re very common in some industries, including technology and aeronautics.

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Written by Eleni Demestihas