(Image via Premier Hockey Federation)
The battle for a stable women’s pro hockey league in North America just got a bit easier. Last month, the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) announced that its salary cap will double from $750,000 to $1.5 million, beginning with the 2023-24 season. This is the third straight season in which the salary cap has expanded, exhibiting a remarkable jump since 2021’s $150,000 upper-limit.
The PHF is now in its eighth season, and Commissioner Reagan Carey believes that the league is only getting stronger. “We will not stop here, and are very proud to continue our track record of establishing new records for women’s professional hockey. The PHF was the first league to pay its players back in 2015, and our commitment to building the best home for women’s professional hockey requires us to continue leading the way forward. Greater financial opportunities for athletes is part of the new PHF era. We are doing the work, and we are seeing the results.”
The league is currently comprised of seven franchises, including our very own Buffalo Beauts, and the newest member of the PHF as of this offseason, the Montreal Force. This salary cap bump flows from the $25 million commitment that the league received from its Board of Governors last January.
Under the current PHF salary cap structure, teams are required to spend at least 75 percent of the cap, or $562,500 of the current $750,000 cap. This past season, the minimum salary was just $13,500, while Beauts’ forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis became the highest-paid player in women’s hockey at $80,000 per year. Although league minimums and other salary details have yet to be ironed out under the expanded cap, it is more likely than not that the league minimum will see a much-needed boost – a crucial element to the longevity of the PHF. All seven teams are above the cap floor, according to the league.
Teams were required to have at least 20 contracts, and no more than 25, for the 2022-23 season. The average salary, when spending to the floor for 25 contracts, is roughly $22,480; spending to the cap on 20 contracts would bring the average up to around $37,500. If these cap and roster requirements remain the same (and it is unclear whether they will or not), these averages would be bumped up to $45,000 and $75,000, respectively.
A number of high-profile players, coaches, and front office members have joined the PHF this offseason, as well, further adding to the pedigree that the league is developing. Between substantial pay raises and an influx of talent and skill, the overall quality of play in the PHF is almost sure to see an uptick next season, as it already has this year. “When players are paid more, they can reduce or eliminate their commitments to other paying work and focus on their sport, increasing the level of play across the board,” as The Ice Garden’s J Gray succinctly described it.
While the PHF is the only professional women’s league in North America, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has been touring the continent for four seasons, putting on weekend-long showcase events. The PWHPA hopes to establish a league of its own by 2023; this increased salary cap has set a new financial standard for any prospective PWHPA league, though. It has always been a struggle for professional women’s hockey to have the talent pool diluted by multiple top-flight leagues. It will be interesting to monitor the impact that this salary cap increase has on where the game’s best players decide to play their pro careers and make their money. The PHF currently has considerably more funding flexibility, and the league play format, as opposed to tour-style performances, is said to be a draw for players. Furthermore, PHF’s media rights deal with ESPN offers unmatched exposure.
Both bodies want one thing – a stable, financially-sound home for professional women’s hockey. Both agree that, ultimately, one league would be most beneficial for the game, but to this point, competition still remains between the PHF and PWHPA, as each is determined to be that one league. There are certainly plenty of questions that remain unanswered: “Specifics on salary, roster requirements, term lengths, and non-salary expenditures must be provided. Investments in infrastructure to support the growth of the league must come alongside this announcement. What salary increases will mean for players outside of the United States and Canada, who have struggled to obtain visas to play in the PHF this season and in previous seasons, must be understood and disseminated to interested players.” Many of these concerns will be addressed in the coming months, but many will loom over the women’s pro game for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, this doubling of the PHF salary cap is a massive moment for women’s hockey, and marks a potential turning point in the stability of the sport.