(Photo: Melissa Burgess)
The NWHL's restricted free agency period has now ended, with 18 players re-signing with their respective clubs prior to June 1. Unrestricted free agency is now open and the league's draft will be held on August 17.
All four teams still have plenty of work to do in order to fill their rosters for the upcoming season, so the unrestricted free agency period could be quite interesting. Which players will switch teams, which players will come into the league, and which players will decide not to return?
Boston Creating A New Core
With a large portion of their roster out of the NWHL for Olympic training with the U.S. women's national team, the Pride have a lot of work to do. They've got to find a way to fill the holes left by the absences of Knight, Decker, Marvin, Bellamy, Carpenter, Duggan and Pelkey.
In addition, the departure of Blake Bolden creates yet another absence on the Pride's blue line.
As a result, the Pride must make strong signings this offseason. That's already begun in the RFA period with the re-signing of forwards Jordan Smelker, Kathryn Tomaselli, Emily Field and Micaela Levine, as well as defender Lexi Bender.
UPDATE: The Pride announced on June 1 the re-signing of Jillian Dempsey and Mary Parker, so that's two more pieces returning to Boston for the upcoming season.
The upcoming season will give Pride players who were perhaps in the shadow of the Olympic players, or who had been practice players, to step up and fill a full-time role.
A huge focus for Boston going into UFA has to be goaltending. Brittany Ott has been solid in net for the past two seasons, and her return would be a huge piece of the Pride's roster next season.
Another piece: scoring talent. The Pride have been a top-scoring team, thanks to the likes of Knight and company; they'll need to find players who can make up for the absence of that offense.
Beauts Holding Invitational Camp
For much of the RFA period, it looked like the Beauts weren't going to get anyone locked in for next season.
They silenced that with the re-signing of forward Corinne Buie, who scored the Isobel Cup-winning goal and fit in well in her first season with Buffalo.
Other than Buie, however, the Beauts have not signed any players for next season. They've got a lot of work to do in the coming months to fill the rest of their roster -- though that goal be helped by an invitational camp being held June 10-11 in Buffalo.
We already know the Beauts will be without Harrison Browne, Brianne McLaughlin, and Devon Skeats next season, all of whom have retired. Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek, key defenders for Buffalo, will be at Olympic camp as well.
One player to keep an eye on is Paige Harrington. The Mansfield, MA native was at NWHL free agent camp in her home state in May.
The Beauts need to fill in their goaltending spots, with McLaughlin now out of the picture. If Amanda Leveille returns, she'll likely be the starter next season.
Other than that, defense is the word. With Pfalzer and Bozek both out, the Beauts are missing two huge pieces of their blueline core and will need to fill those slots.
Riveters Bring Back Big Guns
The New York Riveters did the most of any NWHL team in the RFA period, re-signing seven of their players. With two goalies, four forwards and a defender -- their captain -- already signed, the Riveters are in good shape heading into the UFA period.
The only player we know that will not be returning to the Riveters from this past season? Amanda Kessel, who's heading to Olympic camp. Other than that, the remaining players could be headed back to Newark.
Aside from re-signing captain Ashley Johnston, the Riveters also set up their goaltending tandem. Katie Fitzgerald will return, as will her partner Sarah Bryant. Tatiana Rafter, Rebecca Russo, Lauren Wash, and Julia Herr will all return to once again provide offense for the Riveters.
UPDATE: On June 1, the Riveters re-signed forwards Miye D’Oench and Alexa Gruschow, and defender Kiira Dosdall.
They'll still need to sign more defenders and add a few forwards, but the Riveters are perhaps in the best shape right now of any of the four NWHL teams. Re-signing Fitzgerald was a key move and the team was certain to lock her up early. It's only a matter of time before they start signing more players and fill in their roster.
Whale Look to Improve Roster
The Connecticut Whale already have three defenders signed for next season, a good start to building their blue line in the hopes of finishing higher in the standings. Cydney Roesler, Shannon Doyle, and Elena Orlando will all rock the blue and green once again next season.
They also re-signed forward Kelly Babstock, a solid beginning to their offensive core heading into next season.
In another move, the Whale signed 2016 draft pick Sydney Rossman, who will be one piece of their goaltending tandem in the 2017-2018 NWHL season. Rossman recently graduated from Quinnipiac and should prove to be a solid presence in net for Connecticut.
Like their counterparts, the Whale have some work to do in the unrestricted free agent period. They still need to secure another goaltender -- whether a backup to Rossman or a starter -- and have a lot of space for forwards.
Who will be back? Who won't? Only time will tell.
No salary information has been reported yet, but it's expected to be released at the end of the free agent period, all at once.
In addition to the free agent moves, the league also recently introduced Thomas Poeck as the head coach of the Pride, replacing Bobby Jay. It was also announced that Hayley Moore, the previous general manager of the Pride, has been named Deputy Commissioner of the NWHL.
With all of these changes, there's no doubt that the NWHL's third season will be one to watch.