The Premier Hockey Federation has been acquired by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association-affiliated Billie Jean King Enterprises and Mark Walter Group, effectively ending the PHF as it currently exists. Players from the PHF and PWHPA will play together under a single league run by the new ownership group beginning in January 2024.
Formerly the National Women’s Hockey League, the PHF was founded in 2015 and consists of seven teams in the United States and Canada. The Athletic’s Shayna Goldman reports that financial struggles may have fueled the acquisition, with the PHF possibly considering bankruptcy. The PWHPA began in 2019, but had not yet created a formal league. Per The Hockey News’ Ian Kennedy, the new league will play with six teams, meaning the end of at least one existing PHF franchise.
As part of the acquisition, all existing PHF contracts have been voided, leaving many talented athletes suddenly without financial security or a place to play. PHF contracts are at-will, something players and agents have worked against in the past. Per The Victory Press’ Melissa Burgess, 120 players have already signed deals that are now voided for the 2023-24 season.
The introduction of PWHPA players into an already-smaller league will leave talented players on the outside. Many of the most well-known players in women’s hockey are in the PWHPA, including Hilary Knight, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Sarah Nurse. PWHPA players will likely edge out existing PHF players for roster spots on the new teams. The Athletic’s Shayna Goldman also reported that PWHPA players will receive priority in the replacement league.
Another concern surrounds the leagues’ policies towards transgender athletes: while the PHF allows transgender players with some restrictions, PWHPA board member Jocelyne Lamoureux has argued against allowing transgender women to play in women’s sports. If the PWHPA refuses to allow transgender players in the new league, the deal would represent a step backwards for inclusion in the sport.
The merger sent a shockwave through the women’s hockey community and left many players’ futures in limbo. Goldman reported that players were not notified of the acquisition ahead of time and found out when the news became public, while a PWHPA source told Burgess the deal “came as quite a shock.” As of late Thursday night, neither the PWHPA nor the PHF has released a statement, leaving players and fans alike without answers.
PWHPA members will now vote to ratify their first-ever CBA as they prepare to establish the new league. The structure of that upcoming league remains a mystery, as does the future of existing PHF franchises is also uncertain, though The Ice Garden’s Mike Murphy reports that Montreal and Toronto will retain a team. Per Burgess, PWHPA chair Jayna Hefford and PHF commissioner Reagan Carey are both expected to remain involved in leadership.
Madison Packer, captain of the PHF’s Metropolitan Riveters, was optimistic after the deal. “What an exciting time for women’s hockey!” she said. “Can’t wait to show the world what we can accomplish TOGETHER! ❤️”
What an exciting time for women's hockey! Can't wait to show the world what we can accomplish TOGETHER! ❤️
— Madison Packer (@madison_packer_) June 30, 2023
This is the second time in five years that the state of pro women’s hockey has radically shifted with little notice, following the end of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019. With just eight seasons under their belt, the PHF is coming to a close, at least in its current form.
the (kind of incomplete*) timeline of pro women’s hockey in north america
*the wwhl and the first nwhl ran cocurrently with the cwhl until 2011 but i struggled to find complete records
*the whitecaps played in the wwhl and first nwhl before joining the second nwhl [pic.twitter.com/GVrgV5WKpc](http://pic.twitter.com/GVrgV5WKpc)
— Michelle Jay (@michelle_jay3) June 30, 2023
On a fan level, it’s difficult to see so many players lose their livelihoods overnight, especially after years of sacrifice to the sport. PHF teams continued to announce new contracts as recently as Tuesday, with at least some players already locked into leases for the upcoming season. Now, those plans have evaporated and left talented players scrambling.
6/30 Update: The PHF has released a statement officially announcing the acquisition, confirming that the new league will begin play in January 2024.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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