The PWHL is barely a week old and we have both a lot to talk about and a lot still up in the air! We're going to start slowly and dissect the initial free agency period, where all six teams have either officially or reportedly signed their allotted first three players. Then, we'll probably talk about goalies again, then prepare for the PWHL pro draft.
This next week should be relatively quiet, apart from the very important task of finding out the team names! It'll be a good time for the GMs and their staffs to consolidate where they are and come up with a game plan for the Draft. I'm trying to remind myself that most of the players I want on Toronto (roughly 5/6ths of them) won't be coming to Toronto. Perspective! It's going to suck.
The first free agency period naturally included some very unsurprising signings, but then the GMs came out with a banger or two that change the perspective on the Draft. Toronto didn't pick a goalie, but neither did Minnesota or New York. We'll see which goalies go early, as those three teams will draft first, second, and fourth.
Above is our PWHL Signing Tracker (TM) with as much contract and player details as we could fit in one, easy to use, space. If you want to bookmark the page (which is probably a great idea), here's the link you can use. If player movement news has broken, we've probably already updated the sheet.
Let's take a look at that list and break down each team's roster construction situation.
Abby Roque (C)
Alex Carpenter (LW)
Micah Zandee-Hart (LD)
GM Pascal Daoust and his team were the last team to get their free agent signings sorted. The players going to New York have been reported on, but not officially announced. The New York ??? also had the biggest surprise as they were the first team to sign a cross-border player in Toronto's Micah Zandee-Hart. I was devastated, for the record. Zandee-Hart is a left-shot defender and a very dependable two-way presence on the back end, but especially in moving the puck. Her signing came late last night and was first reported by Hailey Salvian.
Based on what we've heard in interviews and the timings of these signings, they've been real negotiations between players and multiple teams at once. I'm sure the process to get Zandee-Hart in New York was much more exhaustive than a local player like Hayley Scamurra (a winger, but you get the point).
Apparently Sarah Nurse got offers from four different teams (meaning at least one American team) before taking less to stay in Toronto. Feel like I've heard that story before, but can't quite put my finger on it. I'm certain MPP got similar treatment. In most cases, players stayed where they were expected to be, despite the frenzy around them. But in some, we got some interesting moves.
New York is also allegedly going to be signing centre Abby Roque and left winger Alex Carpenter. I got both in the wrong city in my projection article. What I was also surprised with was the lack of goalie signings made by them, especially since they have some great young local players (you've heard me talk about Frankel and Levy). One of them have gone elsewhere, while the other is going to be sought after at the Draft.
Hilary Knight (RW)
Aerin Frankel (G)
Megan Keller (LD)
And that's where Frankel landed. Damn, Boston. They also made the most unsurprising signings in Hilary Knight and Megan Keller. I don't have much to say about Boston at the moment other than they're a damn good team and I hate them. We'll see who they find up the middle as they pick third in the Draft. For the love of god, don't let them have Alina Muller. I will lose it.
Kendall Coyne Schofield (LW)
Kelly Pannek (C)
Lee Stecklein (LD)
Minnesota walked away from free agency with one of the few faces of women's hockey in America, a franchise player in KCS. They also got her centre and a top-line offensive forward in Pannek. And the absolute gem that is Lee Stecklein. The USA's #1 defender and one of the best all-around defenders in the game. Mobility, efficiency, skill.
I sometimes wonder if I need to tone down my praising of these players, because all I seem to do is gush over and over about this player and that player. I want to be clear that I'm not just blindly hyping everyone up, but that the players we are talking about this week are the best players in the sport, and they're all on the move somewhere. There are great players in the PHF, and they'll get their moment in the spotlight, but we can't deny the attention the most important players on the two best national teams deserve to get at the moment.
Emily Clark (C)
Brianne Jenner (RW)
Emerance Maschmeyer (G)
Ottawa was the first team to get their players aligned, bringing in Saskatoon's Emily Clark, and Toronto's Brianne Jenner and Emerance Maschmeyer. Clark was officially named the first player signed in PWHL history, so keep that for the trivia contests. Jenner was a big get for Ottawa, as they likely out-bid Toronto for one of the best players from that region. We'll talk about who Toronto signed instead later on.
Maschmeyer was the player that reminded folks of the compassionate circumstance waiver where a player's spouse can request to sign with and not be traded from the same team without approval. It is not a rule I could find in the CBA, but it's a relatively straightforward rule. Players don't make "pick up your bags and uproot your life" money yet, so you won't necessarily see knee-jerk trades. There will be plenty of interesting happenings without that, I'm sure.
Marie-Philip Poulin (C)
Laura Stacey (RW)
Ann-Renée Desbiens (G)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Montreal got the best player in the sport, her wife, and Team Canada's starting goalie all in one shot. They'll be a really tough team to beat, but don't count out their competition – the players haven't.
Another Canadian team with their starting goalie locked up. Toronto will now basically have to choose from Kristen Campbell, if she's available, or whoever else they can get their hands on in the Draft. What Montreal need to focus on next is defense. That position might take this team from juggernaut to glass cannon.
I would watch out though, because there's a good chance they snatch Sarah Fillier from the NCAA in a year's time one way or another.
Sarah Nurse (LW)
Blayre Turnbull (C)
Renata Fast (RD)
Highly regarded, highly skilled, and willing to play on the edge. Cathy has talked about Nurse a lot, and her crusade to redefine what a body check really is in women's hockey. Turnbull is right in the same mold. They're going to make an excellent 1-2 punch up front, depending on who else they get, and will define the culture of Toronto hockey.
Also it doesn't hurt to have literally one of the best players at her position on the back end, eating up minutes like tic tacs in all situations against the Poulins and Roques and Knights of the world. Finding her a partner to work with and filling out a mobile defense will be a priority for GM Gina Kingsbury, except that everything will be a priority for her. She has to find a goalie first and foremost, but also fill out the vast majority of the skater group in only 15 rounds.
It's going to be a massive task for Kingsbury to manage all the decision factors at the Draft. Considering player residence situations, gauging when players might be taken, not missing any obvious fallers, all while filling out a roster that is balanced across the board.
All six teams are going to be dealing with these considerations at the same time. I hope anyone who thinks this is all scripted understands how much effort is going in behind the scenes and notices the surprises we're sure to see.
And speaking on scripting, my projection article was literally scripted based on who I thought lives where and where they'd most likely to go. In all, I got 7/18 correct. Not bad for my low expectations, but there was lots of movement in that first free agent period. I was most correct about who Boston, Montreal, and Toronto would get, but the other three threw some curveballs. All three players in New York were a surprise, as were the three in Ottawa. Also Aerin Frankel in Boston, damn! At some point I'll move on. Possibly.
Six wingers, five centres, four defenders, and three goalies have signed. 18 players down, 120 more to go, with the next 90 arriving on September 18th.
This is the stage that has been set. We'll have a week to decompress and prepare for the Draft. I say us, but I really mean the busy front offices. I'll see if I can come up with a draft board, but it'll be really difficult. The league will have a list of all the players who opted to play in the PWHL, I hope we get that list. I doubt we get any internal draft rankings. That might be up to us.
It's unprecedented times. We'll see what happens! Do you have a prediction for the first round?