The CWHL ‘Folding’ Might Be A Bad Thing, But It Could Open New Doors

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25 - Kristen Richards of the Thunder (left) battles for the puck against Rachel Llanes (middle) and Taylor Marchin of the Red Star's during the 1st period of CWHL action as the The Markham Thunder play the Kunlun Red Star for the Clarkson Cup at Ricoh Coliseum on March 25, 2018. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

When news broke that the CWHL folded, it’s safe to say a lot of hearts were broken. Women’s professional hockey is a precious thing, despite what some people might think. Although people only see the negative right now, there’s always a silver lining to every situation.

CWHL ‘Folding’ Might Be A Bad Thing, But It Could Open New Doors

The League wasn’t doing very great financially to start with. Fans paid attention and stuck up for women’s hockey, especially after the Winter Olympics when the women would put on a show.

2018-2019 was a great year for women’s hockey though. Last Word On Hockey writer Brian Donnelly summed that up in his piece by writing:

“The CWHL and rival league National Women’s Hockey League were rejoicing through a breakout 2018-19 season. The CWHL began paying its players following the NWHL’s lead. Both leagues expanded the prior offseason into China and Minnesota respectively. Brianna Decker of the Calgary Inferno and Kendall Coyne Schofield of the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps took the NHL All-Star Skills Competition by storm. Hockey fans were tuning in to watch these emerging role models in record droves. Nevertheless, women’s hockey will carry on without the CWHL.

While many factors led to this point, the primary is the League’s flawed economic model. With most sports leagues having privately owned franchising cooperatively competing under a governing organization, the CWHL was a bit different. Each club was owned and operated by the League itself. Being that it operates on a vastly smaller financial scale than its NHL counterpart, franchises rely heavily on outside investors to fund their equipment, travel, etc. As such, having a franchise operating in China makes it difficult to attract North American partners as well as spectators so the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays existed on life support based on the success of the other five clubs. Losing out on key investors was the primary chunk of the CWHL’s failure.”

This is a great thing, especially when you think about the Clarkson Cup getting 175,000 viewers on Sportsnet. That is very, very impressive considering that the League is small compared to other leagues like the WNBA. It’s something to give executives an extra pep in their step. Unfortunately, other things happened.

The Bright Side

The only positive (and it’s a big positive if you think about) is this now allows the CWHL’s teams to merge with the NWHL. This would be great for business because as many have said, all the best women’s players in the world would be under the same roof. This creates top-notch competition and allows the teams to get more competitive. Meaning that this could further grow the product and force people to pay attention to women’s hockey.

The NWHL is already adding Toronto and Montreal to their league, who’s to say they cannot bring in the rest of the teams? Yes, there are financial hurdles and things to get past in those regards, but if there’s a will, there’s a way. The NHL is starting to give money to the NWHL. It may be small amounts, but league founder and commissioner Dani Rylan spoke with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday and confirmed the NHL’s investment, so that’s something to work with rather than nothing.

If the NWHL can give the NHL more reasons to invest, things will only get better. Along with that, there will be opportunities for CWHL players in the NWHL. That might not mean all of them, but it’s some which is better than none.

Also, from the NHL’s perspective, it’s not a good look for them not to invest more in women’s professional hockey after the PR storm that took place with the CWHL ceasing its operations.

Yes, you don’t want to make silly investments that hurt the NHL more than help it. At the same time, the public’s image of the NHL and its advocacy for women’s hockey means a lot more than some think to a superpower in the league like Commissioner Bettman.

The last word

What happened with the CWHL was and still is a tragedy. There is no way around it. That said, there’s always a silver lining to every negative situation.

In this case, that means the option of merging these two leagues. It might take a while, but it will get done. After all, it does make a lot of sense. Business people could probably make arguments for the other side, and they have every right to. There’s always pros and cons to everything in life and the business world doesn’t get left out of that. For the sake of women’s hockey, it’s worth a roll of the dice.

Martin Luther King Jr once said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” That’s what inspiring women in the CWHL ought to do. Not only for themselves, but for women’s hockey.

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Christian Holmes is a senior writer for Grandstand Central, as well as an editor for Last Word On Hockey. Holmesy, as he is known by his peers, works to facilitate intimate one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting personalities in sports. Not to mention, Holmes does also have a keen eye for writing powerful and thought-provoking stories as proven by his story about his lifelong love affair with hockey being published in TSN Hockey Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s and sports writer Jim Lang’s new book entitled "Everyday Hockey Heroes: Inspirational Stories On and Off The Ice". If you’re looking for a good laugh or even to learn a thing or two about life, you can follow him on Twitter below.

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