Big signings, big rumors — PWHL questions — Must-click women’s hockey links

The ice hockey world prepares for a long, hot summer.

It’s off-season in women’s hockey, which means it’s on-season for big signings, juicy rumors and, for another year, a lot of uncertainty. I’m J Gray from The Ice Garden, and this week I’ll try and give you a clear picture on the hazy situation that is the pro game at this moment in time.

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This year, the landscape of professional women’s hockey looks different than it did last year, which was different from how it looked the year before. The 2024 season will see a doubling of the salary cap in the PHF — North America’s only professional league — but may also see a doubling of professional teams, if the much-awaited PWHL does emerge. There are signs of growth and increased investment at the pro level in Europe as well, and elite players may be going in either direction across the Atlantic. At the NCAA level, too, a number of players will have to decide whether they will take advantage of a fifth year of eligibility afforded by the pandemic.

The options are somehow both plentiful and few.

We have not yet reached a place in this sport where the future is guaranteed. The new PWHL was supposed to start last season. Now the scuttlebutt says that it will start this year, but how much can we trust that? The PHF’s salary cap went up to $1.5 million for the 2023-2024 season, potentially allowing dozens more players to make a living playing hockey, but how many teams will spend to that cap? Will the PHF thrive if the PWHL does emerge? Can players count on their national teams to still want them around if they choose to sign with a different team or league, or in a different country?

There is always uncertainty in the life of a professional athlete, but what everyone in this sport has in common is the desire and the urgency to make this something more than what we’ve got right now. The visions may differ, but the end goal remains the same.

In the meantime, there is money to be made.

The PHF announced the first big signing of the offseason: Olympic gold medalist and former Team USA star Kacey Bellamy joined the Connecticut Whale. She will earn a salary of $122,000 for one year, along with a $7,000 signing bonus.

Few other signings have been officially confirmed, but if the rumor mill delivers even half of what it has promised so far, next season in the PHF will show yet another step up in the level of play and the number of elite players concentrated in the league. At the same time, though, the slower-moving whispers of the PHWL rumor mill indicate that high-level players in North America and Europe are waiting to see whether the promised second league will become an option.

With the recent reveal by Ian Kennedy of The Hockey News’ brand-new women’s hockey site that members of this year’s Secret Dream Gap Tour, which included some of the most decorated players in the world, are contractually prohibited from signing in another league until September 1. It may be a long, hot summer waiting for rosters to take shape, and things may look very different when the pucks drop again in the fall.

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Aside from the race to the top of professional hockey, there’s a lot going on in the broader women’s hockey world, as there always is. Here are some of the most notable stories from this week, and also, some of my favorites:

Loren Gabel named PHF MVP and Outstanding Player of the Year

Korea earns promotion in women’s hockey world championship

IIHF discussing a women’s world junior tournament

Keady Norton to coach 2024 U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team

Sarah Nurse continues to break boundaries in women’s hockey

Ellie Wakeling – the woman playing elite men’s ice hockey in England

U.S. women’s hockey players rally against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

For siblings Emma and Alex Vlasic, pro hockey has created a ‘really special’ bond

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by The Ice Garden