Another week has passed by in the NWHL offseason. We are now at the five-week mark of free agency and the Metro Riveters have seen six signings and three departures thus far. It has now come time for the offseason grades of all five teams at this point in the summer. The grading is at my sole discretion and more than just free agent signings are taken into account.
The best place to start is of course with the team I usually cover. To date, the Riveters have signed Amanda Kessel, Kelly Nash, Rebecca Morse, Katie Fitzgerald, Kimberly Sass and Sarah Bryant. Six signings in five weeks is pretty good, but there are 25 spots to a team. There is still plenty of work to get done for Metropolitan, from filling out the rest of their roster to finding a new head coach. Taking these constraints into consideration, it is very difficult to give anything higher than a B. They have been the second-most active team in the offseason (and there is some fan bias in there) to date, but in reality, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg for the Riveters. We will see if the defending champs have a few more tricks up there sleeve.
This is not even a question. They have 14 players signed and essentially became the first “super team” in NWHL history. They have two Olympic gold medalists in goal between Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley. This will most likely become a 1/1A situation between the pipes. For you Devils fans unfamiliar with these two brilliant netminders, it’s similar to the Brodeur/Schneider situation in 2013-2014. Buffalo also managed to steal away Kelly Babstock from the Connecticut Whale, a huge signing as she was leader of that team for the entire season. They also managed to sign another gold medalist in Dani Cameransei. Needless to say, the Beauts have emerged as the early 2019 Isobel Cup favorites.
The league’s newest team may only have three signings on record but like I said, the grading takes more into account. They were given a B- because they already have put their season tickets on sale and even included a premium option that guarantees center ice seats and more. As a result, many fans have already signed on for the season. They are set to open their inaugural campaign with back-to-back two home games against the Metropolitan Riveters. The Whitecaps also made notable additions like Amanda Levielle, Hannah Brandt and Lee Stecklein. Needless to say, the NWHL’s newest team has a lot going for them as next season quickly approaches.
The Pride had a rough season in 2017-2018. They lost Hilary Knight, Alex Carpenter, and then (after only three games) Haley Skarupa to Olympic training. This set Boston back many steps, and to a shocking third place finish before being eliminated by the Metro Riveters. They currently have four signings with two new players in Katie Burt and Toni Ann Miano. Emily Field and Alyssa Gagliardi are set to return for another season, and will hopefully help the Pride recover from last year’s struggles. Boston’s fortunes could quickly turn around for them if the aforementioned Olympians decide to make a return to the league, and once again play for Boston. However, as of writing this, there haven’t been reports of any kind on one of those players.
I am not trying to be harsh in my grading, but we have to be serious for a second. The Whale finished last place this past season, and they just lost their best player. With Babstock going to Buffal0 and there not being any Olympians on the team in the first place, it sets an unlikely precedent for any to sign with Connecticut in the near future. The Whale also only have two signings with Rachel Ade and Emily Fluke—who was their second-best player last season. With the opportunities created by Babstock’s departure, you can look for her to take a major step up in a leadership role and (bearing any unprecedented moves) most likely lead the team in scoring.
These are only the grades for the first five weeks of the season. There will be a final evaluation of all teams during preseason.