Monday, October 12, 2015

Game On!

Two years ago, at the draft table of my Hockey Keeper pool (which I win every other year), I made the bold prediction that within ten years, a woman would play in a regular-season NHL game. My reasoning behind this was that with today's defensive systems being so advanced, elite players have seen their points production drop 20 points (the league leaders no longer factor into the high 100s but hover around the mid-80s instead), while goal scoring in general hasn't actually gone down, meaning the very good players' production (i.e. ''the middle-six forwards'' and ''3-4 defensemen'') have instead stabilized their production and are now closer in range to the best of the best.

And the very best women aren't very far from the very good men skill-wise. And they can also play the system that will maximize their potential, like their male counterparts, and keep up; the only knock is their size (at times 20% smaller), meaning their endurance in a grueling 82-game schedule would test their bodies - but that's the case with the smallish men and many rookies as well.

Also, factoring in the salary cap (currently at $71.3M per 23-man team) and the fact that superstars are now getting paid in the $10M range (Patrick Kane earning that with his point-per-game production while Jonathan Toews gets his 60 points while shutting down the opposition), players with ''low'' salaries are prized by general managers throughout the league.

The NHL's minimum wage currently stands at just under $600,000.

There is a Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), and while many of its teams are supported by their NHL counterpart (particularly the Montréal Stars with the Montréal Canadiens and Calgary Inferno with the Calgary Flames), most of those deals just help compensate the teams' financial losses and pertain to using the NHL's teams' facilities and marketing tools and personnel. The players themselves do not yet get a salary.

Enter the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), which I referenced last June, based in the U.S. and who will pay their players starting this year, with an average salary of $15,000. Of note that many of these athletes played College hockey and have degrees and can have ''day jobs'', ranging from teachers to engineers. But that still relegates the sport as something of a hobby rather than a job or a career, despite the Olympic medals they likely all have.

There's a world of difference between $15K and $600K. There isn't one between a 25-year-old Olympian woman and an average NHLer, be it of the veteran (a 35-year-old slowing down) kind or rookie type (so young that a year or two in the minors might be beneficial), let alone for the few who have tons of heart but little offensive or defensive skills.

It's a question of math, on both sides: if you can get 80% of the production at 60% of the cost, or even the same production at the same cost, general managers will have to one day decide that women are worth what they can bring. And on the players' part, earning 30 times your salary might be a good reason to put that teaching career on hold for a couple of years.

But first things first, the NWHL played their first games last night. Manon Rhéaume, who played an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning 25 years ago, proceeded to do the ceremonial puck drop:

Game on!

No comments: