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The Boston Herald


Calls for "#OneLeague" might not have been so far off.

The National Women's Hockey League and Canadian Women's Hockey League might be making long-speculated progress uniting the two entities.

NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan told the Associated Press that one league is "inevitable," and has had discussions with new CWHL commissioner Jayna Hefford regarding a merger.

"I feel it's inevitable because there's no doubt it would be the right thing for the continued advancement of the women's game across all levels in the U.S. and Canada," Rylan told the Herald.

The NHL's involvement may also be inevitable.

"It's definitely something we have to look at," Hefford said. "There is a lot to consider and where I am new to the role I'm trying to understand what the challenges and roadblocks are and how we can get us to the point where we have one professional hockey league in a way that works for everyone."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman balked in the past at being involved in the women's leagues' disputes, and he's expressed a desire to not start a third league to overstep their bounds.

As the NWHL continued to grow, however, Bettman has spoken more at length about the NHL getting involved in women's hockey.

"When you've started a business and made great progress in just three years, what's it like when Gary Bettman tells the media the model for our women's league doesn't work? Of course, it's really disappointing," Rylan said. "But behind the scenes, the commissioner has been a gracious adviser to me and the NHL has been supportive, so we hold up his comments as another challenge that inspires us. Can we improve? No question about it."

Behind the scenes the NHL has quietly got involved. According to the AP report, it was the men's league that stepped in and helped end the labor and wage dispute between women's national team players and USA Hockey that resulted in equal pay ahead of the 2018 Olympics.

The NHL or USA Hockey have not publicly discussed the funding or four-year agreement between the players and the latter entity. The NHL declined comment.

The NWHL hasn't publicly lobbied for NHL support as much as the CWHL, but three of its five franchises have some NHL involvement. The Buffalo Sabres own a team, while the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild have partnerships.

"My hope is that over time we'll earn Gary's respect for our business and for what we're doing for hockey," Rylan said of Bettman. "In the advancement of a sport that we all believe is for everyone, we're in this together with the NHL, the CWHL and all the hockey leagues."

One league would be a lot easier to throw support behind for the NHL. The NHL did not step in when the NWHL was struggling to pay its players in the midst of its second season, or offer any other support or show interest until the league has been seemingly on stable ground.

The NWHL offered no comment on the NHL's involvement or how they could assist the women's leagues.

A source confirmed the leagues have discussed a merger. If the motive is to unite to bring in NHL involvement isn't clear, but it would be a step if that is what the leagues desire.

Hefford is, according to the AP, scheduled to meet with Bettman this week. The CWHL did not return a request for comment.

Both the NWHL and CWHL are in the midst of their seasons. The NWHL is in its fourth year and has games scheduled in two NHL arenas this season.

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October 18, 2018


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