By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
Introducing the PWHL
Last week turned out to be an exciting week for women’s hockey.
On Tuesday, a new women’s league was announced as the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), complete with the “original six” teams. The league will kick off — or, more appropriately, drop the puck — in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Boston, Minnesota and New York for a 2023-24 season. The launch season will feature 24 regular season games for each team starting in early January 2024.
The PWHL will be governed by a board that includes tennis icon Billie Jean King. Retired player and Olympian Jayna Hefford is the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations for the league, and long-time NHL executive Brian Burke will be the executive director of the PWHL’s players’ association.
General managers of each team were announced on Friday. Daniel Sauvageau (Montreal), Michael Hirshfeld (Ottawa), Gina Kingsbury (Toronto), Danielle Marmer (Boston), Natalie Darwitz (Minnesota) and Pascal Daoust (New York) will be the six inaugural General Managers of the PWHL.
The league’s first free agency period was also due to open on Friday. A 15-round draft is scheduled for Sept. 18 in Toronto. The newly formed teams are expected to head to training camp in mid-November.
While this announcement, and the involvement of names like King, Hefford and Burke, signifies the beginning of a new era in women’s hockey, you don’t have to look too deep to see how many more miles there are to go.
Salaries will range between $35,000 and $80,000 for an average salary that is less than their male counterparts in the American Hockey League, and a small fraction of what NHL players make. But those leagues weren’t always lucrative for players, either, and they had to start somewhere.
Keep a close eye on teams landing their names and building their rosters over the coming weeks.
It’s professional tryout season!
As training camp approaches, a PTO is a good opportunity for a veteran player who has not landed a contract as a free agent to make an impression with an interested club and potentially fill a hole on their roster. Likewise, the PTO provides the team with a non-committal opportunity to look at a variety of options to fill roster holes. The coach can create a competitive atmosphere to bring the best out of all his options before making roster decisions. Win, win.
The Edmonton Oilers have led the way, signing two PTOs so far —veteran centremen Sam Gagner and Brandon Sutter. As we edge closer to camp we can expect to see the list of PTOs grow.
On Wednesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they had signed Coach Sheldon Keefe to a multi-year contract extension. Keefe was entering the final year of his contract, and the Leafs apparently wanted to avoid the “lame duck” dynamic that is commonly discussed in NHL circles.
The theory is that the coach cannot be expected to coach as he needs to in the last year of his contract. Due to the limited time remaining in the role, the coach is believed not to have the influence necessary to manage his team. It’s a fascinating concept that doesn’t really exist in other professional contexts. Most jobs have the bizarre expectation that the employee perform up to expectations for the duration of the contract.
Nevertheless, Keefe has two additional years of commitment, which will take him to the end of the 2025-26 season, and three years to prove he can take this team to the next level, or until leadership loses patience if he cannot.
Fans are somewhat skeptical.
With the removal of Kyle Dubas as general manager, and Brad Treliving installed as the new GM, fans have been waiting for the dramatic changes that will help the Maple Leafs clear the hurdles between them and the Stanley Cup. But so far, the Core Four remains intact and the coach is back.
Will the blue line additions of John Klingberg and Simon Benoit (signed this past week) and the shuffling of complementary forwards be enough? Certainly, the Leafs extending Keefe was not as controversial as another coaching decision this past week.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes, a junior team in the Western Hockey League, announced they had hired Bill Peters as their new head coach. Peters is not new to the coaching world, having previously coached in the WHL, the American Hockey League (Rockford) and the NHL (Detroit, Carolina and Calgary).
In November of 2019, while he was the head coach of the Flames, a story broke concerning Peters. Akim Aliu, who had been coached by Peters while with the Rockford IceHogs, alleged Peters had directed racial profanities toward him during that time. This was followed by allegations from Michal Jordan, a former Carolina Hurricanes player, that he and another player had been kicked and punched by Peters during a game. An investigation followed and Peters eventually resigned.
When news broke that Peters would be hired in Lethbridge, Aliu took to social media to report that he had been contacted by an NHL coach on behalf of Peters. According to Aliu, Peters had made no attempt to apologize to him since their time together in Rockford, or since the story broke in 2019. One is left with the impression that he only acted on an apology — or tried to do so through someone else — when a job was at stake. Nonetheless, a press conference introducing Peters as coach proceeded. “I apologize. I now recognize the impact of my words. I was uneducated in my use of inappropriate language. I take ownership of my actions and regret my choice of words. I failed to create a safe place for Akim and I’m deeply sorry.” Those were Peters’ words. Deeply sorry. Just not deeply enough to make an apology before now, apparently.
Blue Jays Babble
The Toronto Blue Jays welcomed the Cleveland Guardians over the Aug. 26 weekend for a three-game series.
Toronto opened the series on Friday with a 5-2 loss, and Canadian-born Bo Naylor contributed for Cleveland with a solo homerun. On Saturday, the Jays evened the series with an 8-3 win. Hyun-Jin Ryu was solid and rookie Davis Schneider had another homer in the victory.
Sunday’s rubber match was not exactly a pitching duel, with a total of 17 runs being scored. The game ended in extra innings with the home team coming up short in a 10-7 loss.
The Jays opened another three-game home series on Monday against the Washington Nationals. Kevin Gausman had a strong outing, striking out seven and allowing three runs in five innings pitched. The Jays won 6-3.
On Tuesday, Aug. 29, Jose Berrios allowed five runs in six innings and the Jays bats couldn’t outscore the Nationals in a 5-4 loss. Then on Wednesday, Chris Bassit pitched 8 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, and Alejandro Kirk had three RBIs in a 7-0 win.
Thursday was a day off for the Baby Blue before they were headed to Colorado for a weekend series against the Rockies. The Jays owned a record of 73-61 heading into the weekend, which was good enough for third place in the American League East and holding them at two and a half games back of a wild card spot.
Win a series, lose a series. That’s been the pattern for the Jays all season, and it’s left them on the outside looking in. September features series against some teams who are at the bottom of the standings, as well as divisional rivals.
Only one team — the Tampa Bay Rays who they face for two series —holds a better record than the Jays. This is their opportunity to string some wins together if they intend to deliver fall ball to Canadian baseball fans.
It’s time to find out if there are any clutch players in Toronto, and who will show up to lead the Boys in Blue toward a strong finish.