NHL, Leafs and Flames help settle defunct CWHL debt

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The NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames are among the donors helping the defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League pay off its debts.

The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, Hockey Canada and other private donations have also helped the CWHL empty its books.

“The CWHL is in the process of paying everyone and will be able to close in an orderly fashion,” CWHL Board Chair Laurel Walzak said Tuesday in a letter calling the donations “significant and critical.”

The letter written on behalf of the CWHL Board of Directors details the demise of the league and what a women’s hockey league needs to survive.

The six-team CWHL ran for 12 seasons and gave female hockey stars their own league.

The Clarkson Cup, donated by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, was awarded annually to the winning team.

But the league was in “serious financial distress” on April 1, Walzak said.

Licensing fees from the addition of two Chinese teams allowed the CWHL to begin paying players between $2,000 and $10,000 in 2017-18.

WATCH: Toronto Furies GM on CWHL folding:

Toronto Furies GM on CWHL shutdown

Toronto Furies general manager Sami Jo Small speaks with CBC’s Michael Serapio about the CWHL’s decision to cease operations. 5:57

Reduced revenue stream

The merger of these teams the following season, however, reduced this revenue stream. A source also told The Canadian Press that China wants to renegotiate licensing fees.

“The League announced that it was ending a week after the Clarkson Cup because the League had payments due April 1st and was anticipating a significant deficit and believed, based on the corporate market response, that revenue was n would not increase significantly in the upcoming 2019-20 season,” Walzak wrote.

Walzak wrote that $5–6 million was needed to keep the CWHL in operation, and nearly $10 million was needed for a fully functional professional league.

The US-based NWHL which started in 2015 “has fragmented potential sponsorship dollars”, she added.

The five-team NWHL continues to operate, but about 200 players, including the stars of the women’s game, refuse to play.

Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner, and goaltenders Noora Raty and Shannon Szabados are among those who believe the NWHL isn’t financially viable either.

Widespread calls for a women’s league while two operated have kept potential investors on the sidelines waiting to see what happens.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the men’s league was unwilling to take ownership when the women’s leagues were already operating.

Merging the not-for-profit CWHL with a for-profit entity like the NWHL was not an option and if the CWHL went private, it would lose Hockey Canada’s insurance coverage, Walzak added.

As the CWHL Board of Directors supports players in collective action for a league, Walzak wrote that there needs to be a dramatic change in attitudes toward women’s hockey.

“It’s not smart for all of us to lament the end of the CWHL, without changing the behaviors that led to its end,” she said.

“Today’s top players receive a modest stipend ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 a year, compared to the lowest annual salary in the NHL of around $1 million.

“CWHL successors must find a way for top women to earn full pay.

“We therefore urge all hockey associations and all levels of government to allocate funds directly to the women’s game and to ensure that women are at the table when these decisions are made.”

Walzak said the board received two offers under $20 to buy the league’s assets without assuming liabilities, which the CWHL declined.

The league raised $93,000 through an auction of memorabilia that was used to pay off the debt. Seven of the 10 CWHL trophies up for auction are heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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