NWHL introduces restricted free agency, ‘draft tax’ for year two

After successfully completing year one as the first paid women’s professional hockey league, the NWHL is pretty much hitting the reset button.

All coaches, general managers, and players had signed one year contracts to get them through the first season. Now it’s time start getting the teams ready for year two.

In the last week of March, the NWHL began securing the return, and/or replacement, of each team’s front office and behind the bench. A brief recap:

  • New York Riveters – Chad Wiseman returns to the team for a second season. He will resume his role as head coach and add on the title of general manager. NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan was previously the GM and gave it up to focus on, you know, being the commissioner.
  • Boston Pride – General Manager Hayley Moore will return to the Isobel Cup champions in the same role. The status of head coach Bobby Jay is unknown.
  • Buffalo BeautsRic Seiling has been elevated to general manager, and will continue to act as co-head coach of the team. Shelley Looney, the other co-coach, has left the league. As of publication, no updates as to who will fill her spot. Former-GM Linda Mroz will now be in charge of game day operations.
  • Connecticut WhaleLisa Giovanelli Zuba has been named the general manager. She served as, and will remain in, the role of assistant coach. Head coach Heather Linstad was a midseason replacement. Her future is unknown; however, she appears to be coaching high school softball at the moment.

As for the players, the NWHL announced on Friday a special signing period – termed by the league as ‘restricted free agency’ – for the month of April. 

It impacts both returning players and the 2015 draft class. 

Players who are planning to return to the NWHL for a second season have the month of April to negotiate a contract with the team they played on. Should they be unable to reach a deal, or the player decides to go to a different team, she will be able to do so during the free agency period between May 1 to July 31.

Prospects taken in the 2015 NWHL Draft for college juniors should be done with their senior seasons by now. The players are free from NCAA (or CIS) restrictions on professional contracts, and can negotiate exclusively and sign with the team that drafted them during April.

Like returning players, the prospect will be able to test the free market beginning May 1. However, the league has built in a “draft tax” for prospects who do not end up signing with the team that drafted her. 

The “draft tax” is essentially compensation by the team that signs the prospect given to the team that drafted her. It’s kind of like a super simplified version of when an RFA in the NHL signs an offer sheet; except in the NWHL’s version, the compensation goes towards the salary cap.

From the NWHL’s press release:

If player decides to sign with another club, that club will forfeit between $1,000 – $5,000 of their salary cap to the club that drafted the player. $1,000 for 5th round picks, $2,000 for 4th round picks, $3,000 for 3rd round picks, $4,000 for 2nd round picks, $5,000 for 1st round picks.

It’s a smart move by the NWHL to implement this rule.

Not only does it bring legitimacy to the practices of the league, but it also dissuades general managers from gaming the system. It also closes a massive loophole where all 2015 draft picks automatically became free agents on May 1.

The salary cap will once again be $270,000 per team with player contracts ranging from $10,000 to $25,000. All teams are “owned” by the NWHL.