PWHL December Notebook
- 8 min read

PWHL December Notebook

Contracts continuing to drop, PWHL NY names its captains, some background on the reported payroll issues and liability waivers, and more...

PWHL December Notebook by Zoë Hayden

Here are some news items and notes from around the PWHL this month. Final regular season rosters were released on December 12, and the next major event on the horizon will be the first game of the inaugural season on January 1 at 12:30 PM Eastern US time.

Contract updates

While rosters were announced on December 12, it appears that being named to the roster did not necessarily correlate to a signed and finalized contract. Contracts are continuing to be announced on a rolling basis with term length. Salaries are still not being disclosed, except that each team has signed six players to three year contracts in excess of $80,000 USD.

Contracts will continue to be announced between now and January 1. For the most up-to-date information, check individual PWHL team social media for signings, or our 2023-24 PWHL roster tracker.

New York names its captains

At an event on December 21 at Rockefeller Center, PWHL New York named its player leadership for the 2024 season. Micah Zandee-Hart will serve as team captain, while Ella Shelton and Alex Carpenter will serve as alternate captains.

PWHL onboarding and payroll

In response to a report by The Hockey News that most PWHL players had not been paid, but which did not give any other details, many other media members, including the Victory Press, reached out to both the PWHL and the PWHLPA for information. Several player agents also commented on the situation on Twitter (aka "X").

At the time of The Hockey News report, many players had not yet been paid, apparently due to clerical and legal issues – that is, payroll and tax information needing to be completed. Players were not informed in a uniform fashion of paperwork that needed to be completed, which has led to delays and inconsistencies in payroll processing.

An additional issue affects players who are not citizens of the countries in which they are playing: they need to obtain tax identification numbers in order to be able to legally receive paychecks. Some players may also be experiencing visa issues which would delay their ability to legally receive payments as well.

Player agent Eleni Demestihas of Hecate Sports Group posted a thread about her understanding of the payroll situation. Tweet embedded with permission.

This particular issue seems to partly stem from differences in how each team handled communication and onboarding with their newly signed players. In addition, each contract is being signed at a different time, and (in the case of international players) the US and Canadian governments need to process applications and issue tax ID numbers – a process which is out of anyone's control, whether players, agents, the PWHLPA, or the league.

"There is no grand conspiracy here. All players will receive all funds due them. Some of the delay is due to incomplete paperwork, some due to the fact that we are all new at this! It will all be set right," said Brian Burke, executive director of the PWHLPA. The PWHL commented: "All matters between the league and Players Association are being handled in a professional and collaborative manner."

The situation is unfortunate and no doubt stressful for players who need to receive money that they are owed. It feels difficult to contextualize this in the wake of a report that omitted context and did not include details about sourcing, or comments from parties involved. We can all agree that it is not an ideal situation and that the onus is on the League to provide a consistent and reliable process for employee onboarding. That said, there is currently no indication, from anyone involved in the process, that this is a problem without a path towards resolution.

If the terms of any player's SPA are not being honored, the player concerned should file a grievance with the league through the players' union. There is no indication that any grievances have been filed at this time, nor that the PWHLPA Executive Committee is in any way concerned about the fulfillment of payments as outlined by the CBA and player SPAs. Should that situation change, we will certainly provide those updates and context.

PWHL class action waivers

The Hockey News also reported that the PWHLPA is being asked to sign liability waivers for the duration of the 8-year CBA, stating, "The liability agreement would not allow individual players or collective groups to seek legal recourse against the league and teams for any reason."

Multiple sources who are familiar with the document have indicated to the Victory Press that it is a class action waiver, which binds players to the arbitration process outlined in the CBA for any contract dispute, and prevents them from joining as a class to bring litigation against the PWHL for damages. In legal terms, a "class action" is a procedure in which one or more plaintiffs files or prosecutes a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group. Joining as a class also prevents individuals from filing their own lawsuit about the same matter, as the "class" covers everyone in the group.

If the players waive their right to pursue class action, any disputes between players and the PWHL would need to be handled through the Grievance and Arbitration procedures outlined in Article 18 of the PWHL CBA. In any grievance procedure, if the grievance cannot be settled by a Grievance Committee consisting of one representative appointed by the PWHL and one representative appointed by the PWHLPA, the matter is referred to an Impartial Arbitrator for their decision. The Impartial Arbitrator's decision is considered final and binding.

The grievance and arbitration procedure outlined by the PWHL CBA is similar to that in the NHL CBA, though the NHL has an escalation procedure for "System Arbitration", which is provided to resolve higher-level issues between the Players' Association and the League. This covers many matters that extend beyond grievances brought by any individual player, and the NHL CBA outlines several specific cases where it is used.

The PWHLPA does not have a similar provision for System Arbitration in their CBA. Additionally, the timelines for individual grievance filing are much shorter. The NHL allows 60 days from the time of the event or non-event causing the grievance for a filing (or 60 days from facts regarding the grievance becoming known). The PWHL allows just 10 days for the filing.

Class action waivers in the employment context are very often paired with arbitration agreements and these are common in the United States. The PWHL CBA outlines arbitration procedures already and the class action waiver would limit disputes to being dealt with through these procedures, rather than through the court system.

In 2019, the NLRB issued a decision stating that promulgating class action waivers, even mandatory ones, was not a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, but that such waivers do not prevent employee groups from engaging in organized response to unfair labor practices, such as filing a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.

The NHL has had some very recent controversies around player safety that culminated in attempts to bring class action against the league. In 2018, the NHL benefited from a court decision that former players could not join as a class to sue the NHL for damages, specifically with regard to the League's handling of head injuries in hockey. (Bringing a class action lawsuit does not necessarily mean that the court will allow the plaintiffs to proceed as a class, and a group's class status can be challenged in court.) When the NHL got a favorable decision in this matter, they were able to settle the lawsuit quickly, and for much less than they may have otherwise had to pay.

A class action waiver is a common tactic used by employers to attempt to limit their liability exposure, granting them a bulwark against future legal and financial accountability. Unfortunately in the United States, in both employment and consumer contexts, class action waivers are everywhere and they are completely legal – but that doesn't mean anyone should sign one without understanding the implications.

We reached out to PWHLPA Executive Director Brian Burke regarding the class action waiver and the PWHLPA's stance on the matter but have not yet received a response.

Broadcast details

Sports media analyst Adam Seaborn has been posting some potential details about PWHL broadcasts.

He indicated that the PWHL will be producing its own broadcast which will be distributed to TSN, CBC, and Sportsnet in Canada. RDS will also be carrying some games, presumably in French; it's unclear how the French component of the broadcast will be produced.

There are additional indications that NESN will regionally carry PWHL Boston games in New England. NESN has a PWHL page on its website, just beneath the "three dots" menu expansion. The regional sports network had previously broadcast Boston Pride games including five broadcasts during the 2022-23 PHF season.

Screenshot of the NESN website showing the PWHL page, with the top menu expanded to show the PWHL at the top of the expanded menu (beneath only MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA).

No details have yet emerged about what the national broadcasting landscape will look like in the United States. If the PWHL is completely producing its own broadcast, it would be trivial for any US-based streaming service to pick up the content – but we do need to know soon which service it will be, or how that service will promote and highlight the content. (Think: not having to sort by sport and scroll to the very end of the list to find a women's hockey game.)

It's still not clear how studio shows will be produced and they may be network-dependent, meaning not in-house. CBC has a studio show planned ahead of the first-ever PWHL game on January 1. The pregame show will include The Athletic's Hailey Salvian, recently retired blueliner Saroya Tinker, Tessa Bonhomme, Cheryl Pounder, Andi Petrillo, Anastasia Bucsis, and Daniella Ponticelli.

By producing their own game broadcast, the PWHL is taking on a lot of overhead, but this is also what enables them to control rights to the content and increase reach. This is likely why simultaneous international streaming and broadcast television will be possible at all. If the league invests heavily in the broadcast and produces it at an extremely high quality, the combination of a strong product with rights flexibility could be a game-changer for the PWHL in its inaugural season – as long as there's a reliable way to watch in the US as well as in Canada, not to mention globally.

Goalie gear

PWHL goalies Ann-Renée Desbiens (MTL) and Corinne Schroeder (NY) both seem to have received some very nice new gear to go with their new teams.

In addition, Ottawa goalie Sandra Abstreiter is looking for fan input to design her new goalie helmet:

PWHLPA player representatives selected

The PWHLPA announced on December 21 that each team had elected a player representative to the union.

The representatives are as follows:

  • Boston – Hilary Knight (Knight also serves on the PWHLPA Executive Committee)
  • Ottawa – Jincy Roese
  • Toronto – Natalie Spooner
  • Montreal – Laura Stacey
  • Minnesota – Lee Stecklein
  • New York – Micah Zandee-Hart

Wishing each and every person out there a restful, kind, and beautiful holiday season. The days are thankfully now getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. We are grateful for your ongoing support.

Melissa Burgess contributed reporting to this article.