Devils Sever Ties With Riveters Despite First 2019 Signings

If you have kept up with the world of women’s hockey over the past few months, it probably felt as if you were living through a tornado. Every day, it was waking up to something new that often threw you off balance. And it also probably made whatever story you’d been working on irrelevant. This is, of course, thanks to the NWHL.

The latest, as far as the Riveters are concerned, may be the most dismal of all. On May 17th, it was announced that despite signing on to a three-year agreement, the New Jersey Devils were severing their partnership with the Riveters. This comes after Pegula Sports — the owner of the Buffalo Sabres and now former owner of the Beauts — handed their team back to the NWHL. This news also follows a long winding road of hardships for the sport that includes the folding of the CWHL, a 200-player boycott of North American leagues, and differing opinions among women’s hockey fans on what is right and wrong.

In October of 2017, the Devils were the first NHL team to partner with an NWHL team, with the Sabres, Bruins, and Wild following soon after. During their partnership, the Devils provided a home rink in Barnabas Health Hockey House (their practice rink) to the Riveters. They also hosted two Riveters games at the Prudential Center, and the Riveters’ merchandise was also available in the Devils’ team store. This came after a rebranding of the “New York Riveters” from their original red, white, and blue jersey color scheme to one matching the Devils. The rest of the Devils contributions, as laid out in the contract, were a tad unclear.

According to Emily Kaplan, the Devils will, “reallocate resources & offer ice time to girl’s and women’s hockey in the area.” She also reported that the Barnabas Health Hockey House will no longer be home ice for the Riveters, meaning they must find a new place to play, or renegotiate a deal that would allow them to stay in Newark, but for a price. This is the same situation the Buffalo Beauts find themselves in with their home the HarborCenter (which they used prior to Pegula’s ownership).

Despite the fact that half of the NWHL players from last season have vowed to take part in a North American League boycott, the NWHL is staying strong, claiming they will carry on without them.

NWHL Free Agency

Free agency began on May 15th, and since then 11 players have signed, two of them being to the Riveters. Behind Kaleigh Fratkin’s signing with the Boston Pride, Madison Packer is probably the signing everybody expected the most. These were also the first two signings of the offseason.

Packer has played on the Riveters since their first season and has never shied away from voicing her opinions, the latest with her being on the NWHL’s side. If that wasn’t enough, Packer is due to marry NWHLPA president and former Connecticut Whale player Anya Battaglino this summer. Battaglino has been very vocal about how to improve the NWHL and what flaws exist with the #ForTheGame movement.

In an effort to be more transparent, the NWHL – with the consent of the players – will be releasing salary information. Packer will receive a salary of $12,000 for the upcoming season. And given that she is a top player and has been around since the beginning, this is one of the higher salaries in the league.

Cailey Hutchison is the first of the 2019 draft class to sign. This is significant because she is the first player from the #ForTheGame movement to sign with a North American League (it’s worth noting Hutchison opted out of having her salary public).

Along with the two Riveters and Fratkin to the Pride, the other signings are as followed:

  • Allie Thunstrom re-signed with the Minnesota Whitecaps
  • Shannon Doyle and Taylor Marchin re-signed with the Connecticut Whale
  • Lexi Bender signed the Pride
  • Rookies Tori Sullivan, Jenna Rheault, Lexie Laing, and Christina Putigna also all signed with the Pride.

Of those signings, Bender will receive the highest reported salary of $13,000.

It is interesting to note that all players that have signed — except Thunstrom and Bender — are either rookies or have played in the NWHL since its first season. Many players who have come and gone, or started later in the NWHL have stuck strongly to their #ForTheGame ties.

It also should be noted that the Pride is one of two teams left with NHL partnerships. They have also stated they are keeping former NHL defender Paul Mara behind the bench. In an offseason of vast changes for the league, it makes sense the Pride are a tad ahead of the rest in regards to signing players, which ensures they remain established and well-intact.

Beauts Hiring of Cronin

Some other news from around the world of women’s hockey comes in the form of the Buffalo Beauts hiring Mandy Cronin as their GM. The NWHL has announced that all teams will hire GMs this season in an effort to build better team structure. The Beauts were the only team with a GM in every season. But since Pegula Sports handed the team back to the league, they were left without one.

Cronin is an interesting choice as she was a founder of the CWHL in 2007. She went on to win a Clarkson Cup in the CWHL and is a University of Maine alumni. She represents a bridge in the gap between two countries and leagues that have unintentionally been at odds for the past few months.

The PWHPA

Another bit of news is the establishment of the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association (PWHPA). On May 20, the #ForTheGame players took to social media again, this time posting a since-dead link to a PWHPA website along with this statement. With the exception of Hutchison, it seems the #ForTheGame movement is standing strong, and they are going to take it very seriously until they are treated adequately.

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