Have Some Crumbs

You are looking at Kendall Coyne Schofield, Olympic gold medalist and winger for the United States National Women’s Team, competing in the Fastest Skater event in the 2019 NHL All Star Game Skills Competition. She was promoted from the role of demonstrator to competitor when Avalanche forward Nathan McKinnon withdrew due to a bruised foot on the day of the event. Her time was good for 7th place in the 8-person race — her 7 opponents being the fastest skaters among the 40 NHL players in attendance in San Jose.

Too bad she won’t get another shot at the title.

Sneaking Suspicion

The NHL is hoping that you’ll be WOWED! and AMAZED! by the GROUND BREAKING! inclusion of a women’s 3-on-3 scrimmage taking place as part of this year’s Skills Competition starting at 4pm PST today on NBCSN. 10 players each from the US and Canada national women’s teams will go head-to-head in prime time.

Now, they’ll be playing hurry-up pond hockey — two 10-minute periods, running clock. But I mean, come on… We let them be in the event, what else do they want, huh?

It bears mentioning, however, that this game is not against the men. The ladies will compete against each other. Additionally, the women won’t be participating in Fastest Skater event, meaning Ms. Schofield won’t get another chance at victory. Nor will the women be competing in Accuracy Shooting, Save Streak, or Hardest Shot.

Granted, in the Hardest Shot competition, believers in the superiority of the male physique could argue that the ladies would come up short. But in the others, I have a sneaking suspicion that excluding women from those events was based at least in part on the fact that they might actually beat some of the guys. Again.

(I am also secretly hoping one of the Fastest Skater nominees will beg off due to a hangnail and they let Ms. Schofield try again.)

No, instead women players will be participating in something called “Shooting Stars”. The description of what this event entails is… well… embarrassing. From the official press release:

Players will be positioned on an elevated platform behind the goal, approximately 30 feet above the ice surface, where they will shoot pucks at a variety of targets located on the ice, with each target possessing different point values. One at a time, each player will attempt seven shots and earn points for each target hit.

So suffice to say that it resembles hockey as much as a merry-go-round resembles a cheese sandwich. Here, the women will be competing against the men — in something as frivolous and irrelevant as competitive needlepoint.

This is the story of women’s hockey in a nutshell: here, little girl, have some crumbs, we’re finished with our meal. The financial situation illustrates this point very clearly.

Parity In Women’s Sports

The league minimum salary in the NHL for the 2019-20 season was $700,000. For the 2020-21 season that number goes up to $750,000. The league minimum salary in the AHL — professional hockey’s primary minor league, equivalent to AAA if you’re a baseball fan — is $50,000. That, too, goes up next season, to $51,000.

There is, now, 1 professional women’s hockey league. There were 2, but the CWHL ceased operations at the end of the 2018-19 season after 12 years in operation. We’ll get to why in a minute. The league that’s still in operation is the NWHL, boasting a whopping 4 teams in and around New England, and 1 in St. Paul, MN. The league is about to celebrate 5 years in existence.

The NWHL expanded their schedule from 16 to 24 games per team this season, and also entered into a 3-year “broadcasting” deal with the Twitch streaming service. (Never heard of it? Your kids have. The network is mostly a platform for streaming video games. That is, you can access Twitch and watch other people play video games.) If any revenue is generated from that partnership, the players will receive 50% of the money, above and beyond their salaries. That’s nice, but that’s a big “if”. And why, you may ask, is this an important part of this story?

Wanna guess what the women players make in the NWHL? Go ahead, put a number in your head. Look at the men’s salaries shown above, NHL and AHL, get your bearings, and arrive at an amount. Okay?

The NWHL has a team salary cap. That number rose this year by $50,000. So that means, for the 2019-20 season, each team can spend (wait for it…) $150,000 on player salaries. There are 5 teams in the league, so breaking out our calculators we take 5 teams, multiply that by $150K, and you get $750,000.

Looked at another way, the total amount that all 5 teams in the women’s league will spend on player salaries this year, combined, is equal to the league minimum contract amount for a single player in the NHL in 2020-21.

As far as individual salaries are concerned, the NWHL appears somewhat tight-lipped about that — for obvious reasons. I was able to confirm that one player signed for this season at $13,000, but with a 20-woman roster and only $150K to play with you know that’s an anomaly. The lowest number I saw was $5,000. Before folding, the minimum player salary in the CWHL was $2,500. So now I’ll tell you why the CWHL folded.

Financial inviability. They paid their players barely enough to buy a 20-year-old Nissan Altima, and they couldn’t keep the lights on.

Better Off At Starbucks

Doing a quick data dump from CapFriendly.com, we see that this year the NHL is spending $2,476,949,057.00 on player salaries. Now, that’s a snapshot of AAV as of January 23rd, and that number does not represent actual dollars spent. But with numbers that big and salary/AAV variances both positive and negative, we can safely assume that’s accurate within a couple of million. With a 23-man roster and 31 teams, making the league active roster come to 713, that makes the “average” (and we use that word loosely) salary is $3.47 million. That number seemed high to me, so I double-checked it and it came out the same. If I’ve gone astray here somewhere, please feel free to correct me in the comments section.

I would have to spend a day and a half crunching a spreadsheet to get similar numbers for the AHL; I am not aware of a tracking site like CapFriendly to do the heavy lifting for me. But, since the NHL league minimum is 14 times higher than the AHL, let’s start with that number — $3.47 million divided by 14 puts us as $248,000 and change — and then we’ll cut that in half: so we’ll call $124,000 the “average” salary in the AHL. We know that the absolute minimum a team can spend on a player is $50,000, so 2.5x that amount lands within an expected range.

For the NWHL, using the same math as the NHL, we take the $750,000 salary cap and divide that by the number of players, roughly 100, and your average salary comes out to $7,500. That means the average salary for the top women professional hockey players in the country is less than 1/6 the minimum amount paid to minor league male players. And remember: that’s using the maximum salary cap number. So the best case scenario for a 100-player league in the NWHL is an average salary of $7,500.

Just so you have a complete frame of reference: the federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour. So if you were to work at that wage at, for instance, your local Starbucks, for 50 weeks at 25 hours per week — part time — you would make $9,062.50.

Not Because They’re Women

So to see Kendall Coyne Schofield compete against some of the fastest players in the top professional hockey league in the world, and beat any of them, is a far more astounding feat than you realize. Let’s forget the disgraceful financial disparity for a second, and just look at the players’ lives.

An NHL player’s only thought on any given day, any given minute, is hockey. That’s the only legitimate concern in his life. Practices, games, equipment, training, travel, diet, coaching; everything he needs to do in his day-to-day life revolves around hockey. And he’s got a multi-billion-dollar organization at his disposal to address every concern, fulfill every need.

He gets his equipment brought to him to try out, and in many cases for payment he just says, “Thanks!” He has a team of medical and physiological personnel to make sure he is in good health. He has a state-of-the-art facility, cutting-edge equipment and technology, and a team of trainers who develop a personalized exercise regimen to bring him to the peak level of performance. Beyond the team game he also has on-ice coaching in areas like skating stride, shot mechanics, face-off technique, and other aspects of his skill set. If he wants, he has dieticians and nutritionists, sports psychologists, and counselors.

Christ, when he’s done with games or practices, somebody picks up his dirty laundry, washes it, dries it, folds it, and puts it in his locker! Somebody takes his sweaty equipment and sets it out to dry in a room full of fans to ensure it’s ready for the next on-ice action. And all of those people have annual budgets that rival that of a small corporation.

Plus, then there’s the team aspect of it. Transportation, lodging, facilities, all of it provided and paid for by the team. Chartered planes. Team meals. Practice ice. Staff to haul their gear. Buses from the hotel to the rink. Each team spends tens of millions of dollars every year on, for lack of a better word, pampering their players and attending to everything they could possibly need to ensure that on game day, they can compete against the best in the world.

So the players that Ms. Schofield was up against were the league’s most prolific show ponies; the product of 24/7 hockey player care and feeding programs geared towards achieving peak performance during an 82-game season.

Ms. Schofield has the benefit of exactly none of that. Women’s professional teams don’t have full time staff. Players ride the bus and haul their own equipment — which they pay for themselves in most cases. Trainers? Nutritionists? Washing their laundry? Are you kidding? They’re lucky to get their transportation paid for. Hotels are avoided whenever possible — teams leave early in the morning, drive by bus to their opponent’s rink, play the game in the afternoon, and drive back that night. Team meals, when they do happen, often consist of take-out pizzas stacked on the front seat of the bus coming back from an away game. One report from a road trip with an NWHL team had players cheering when they arrived at a rest stop and got their $10 per diem.

The guys get nutrition-optimized meals prepared by a full-time chef. The ladies get ten bucks and some vending machines.

And while NHL players need not concern themselves with anything outside the game of hockey, for NWHL players hockey is what happens after they’ve completed everything else they need to do to survive.

As you would surmise from the bleak compensation numbers we covered earlier, many of the players in the NWHL have day jobs. The league boasts of the accomplishments of its players in their roles as teachers, accountants, engineers, and businesswomen. What they don’t mention is that far too often these ladies are racing home from those jobs, cramming down leftovers and kissing their kids goodnight, before heading off to the rink for their second job as a hockey player.

Kendall Coyne Schofield is one of the lucky ones — she doesn’t have to hold down a job. Her husband is NFL offensive guard Michael Schofield, who just wrapped up the 2nd year of his contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. His contract carried a signing bonus of $1.5 million — twice the annual salary cap for the entire NWHL. Just the signing bonus.

So when people say that women competing against men in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition wouldn’t be fair, my response is, you’re Goddamn right it isn’t — but it’s not because they’re women. It’s because of the obscene resources at the disposal of every NHL player, when compared to women professional athletes who are basically told, “Sorry, you’re on your own.”

Bigger Conversation

We weren’t going to write this article, because the topic is so vast and so complex that it can’t be fully explored in 1000 words. But with the “inclusion” of women during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on national TV tonight, we thought it was important to provide some context. The authors here at Jet City Ice hope to give the topic of women’s hockey a more thorough exploration in the coming months.

Women’s professional hockey is failing, and will collapse completely without direct intervention and a holistic model for its continued success. The NHL has stated publicly that it doesn’t give a rat’s ass about supporting it in any meaningful way. If that doesn’t change, women’s professional hockey is essentially finished.

Each NHL team has the infrastructure already in place to support a women’s affiliate club: venue, practice facilities, training facilities, full time staff, operations department, you name it. Requiring each NHL team to form (or adopt) and support a women’s professional team for a 40-game season is not only the most logical option, it is the fastest and most stable means to boost women’s hockey beyond the point of being a mere curiosity and creating what could become a viable, self-sustaining entertainment product.

And don’t bore me with the “it’s too expensive” argument; the NHL boasted net profits from hockey operations of over $777 million for the 2018-19 season. And that’s what they are admitting to — you and I both know there is probably at least that much more hiding inside their accountants’ bag of tricks. Leveraging their existing infrastructure, a mere fraction of that could support a viable women’s league, paying the same player salaries as minor league men’s teams, for several years. Just the “Original Six” teams by themselves generated over $1.2 billion in gross revenue last season. There isn’t enough money to support a women’s league? That’s laughable.

Clearly, this is 3 paragraphs of a solution that would require 3 years of planning and implementation. But competing for sponsors and supporters against the other moronic but inexplicably well-funded “sports” options in the increasingly splintered entertainment marketplace has put women’s pro hockey on borrowed time. Leaving it to fend for itself, as NHL commissioner Little Napoleon Bettman has declared the league will do, is condemning women’s professional hockey to a slow but certain death. That can’t be allowed to happen.

A Fair Fight

The NHL and its fans selected 40 of its top players to convene in San Jose in January of 2019 for a display of skill and talent. From those 40 players were chosen 8 guys they thought were the fastest. Kendall Coyne Schofield competed against them, and finished 7th.

That means, among 40 of the top players in the best professional hockey league in the world, a scrappy young lady from suburban Chicago with her skates slung over her shoulder was faster than 33 of them. 33 of the world’s top athletes — who had access to professional trainers, power skating coaches, computer and video analysis of their stride mechanics, and every other resource they could possibly want to help them get stronger and faster — still couldn’t beat her.

Ms. Schofield got thrown into the middle of something bearing no resemblance to a level playing field, and placed in the top 10. Just imagine what she, and women players as a whole, could do if it was actually a fair fight.

Author: Tim Currell

1 thought on “Have Some Crumbs

  1. It’s a mans world UGHHHH !! These women need to get paid and treated the same as the male players!! My daughter is only 15 years old, plays hockey and mention says topic to me all the time. Hopefully it will change soon! DISGRACEFUL

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *