NWHL eyes teams in Montreal and Toronto

The NWHL expects to have teams in Montreal and Toronto next season, commissioner Dani Rylan told ESPN on Tuesday.

The news comes on the heels of the NWHL’s competitor, the CWHL, folding on Sunday morning, news that sent shock waves across the hockey community.

Rylan says the plan will be for the NWHL to have seven teams next season — including the existing franchises in Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Connecticut and Minnesota — although “that is just where we are comfortable today. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to pursue additional business opportunities in additional markets, in both the United States and Canada.”

“Obviously coming off the news of the CWHL ceasing operations for this upcoming season, it was a shock to us, but also an immediate reaction was needed from us to do what we can to provide an opportunity for those players to have a place to play next year,” Rylan said.

The CWHL issued a statement Tuesday saying that the organization is aware of the NWHL’s plan for Canadian expansion, but it said that “there are currently no negotiations occurring between any former CWHL team and the NWHL.”

In addition, Rylan had a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday. The NHL has agreed to increase its financial contribution to the NWHL “significantly,” which will make the NHL one of the NWHL’s biggest financial sponsors.

Sources say the NHL’s contribution will be $100,000 next season. The NHL gave the CWHL and NWHL each $50,000 last season. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says that money is coming from general league funds.

Rylan also says she expects player salaries to grow for next season. The NWHL had a salary cap of $100,000 last season, with the lowest-paid player making $2,500 for the season.

Rylan said the league expects to have conversations with all of the current stakeholders and partners within Toronto and Montreal — including the former CWHL clubs, Montreal’s Les Canadiennes and the Toronto Furies — before finalizing plans.

Last season the NWHL operated four of its five franchises, with the Buffalo Beauts being privately owned by Terry and Kim Pegula, who also own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Rylan has heard “not only from NHL owners, but other major stakeholders in major league sports,” about potential private ownership of one of the NWHL franchises.

As of now, Rylan has nothing to report “but that’s not to say we won’t have news to report this offseason.”

Previously, Dunkin’ Donuts had been the NWHL’s biggest partner. Rylan is currently in renewal discussions with the company.

The NWHL debuted four years ago. The CWHL was founded in 2007. In the past, Rylan said one of her biggest issues when talking to sponsors was the fact that there were two leagues and “they were uncertain as to where they should spend their dollars or what league to pick.” Rylan says now that there is one league, “a lot of that uncertainty is relieved.”

As to why her league will succeed when the CWHL couldn’t, Rylan said: “We have two different business models. We are for profit. We have the flexibility to sell our assets, whether it’s at the league level or the team level, and I think that’s fundamentally the biggest difference.”

Rylan said the league has considered relocation for the Connecticut franchise, which has finished last in the league in both the standings and attendance.

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