Late drama in NWHL free agency, U.S. national team players’ contracts in question

The deadline for the National Women’s Hockey League free agency period ends at midnight on July 31. With only hours remaining, the four teams of the NWHL began to announce a flurry of signings–players on the U.S. women’s national team with USA Hockey, who had previously held out on signing contracts.

There was only one catch: those contracts, as of July 31, apparently have not actually been signed by the players.

Instead, the National Women’s Hockey League sent out press releases indicating the players “will join” their respective teams for season 2. Then, in a wave of tweets, most of the players involved in the negotiations sent out a common tweet. The following selection is only a sample; Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Dana Trivigno, Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa, Amanda Pelkey, Gigi Marvin, Zoe Hickel, Emily Pfalzer, Shiann Darkangelo and Anne Schleper have all tweeted the 21-word statement.

Stack’s participation might be the most interesting, as she was the first Team USA player announced in the afternoon to have finally signed on for season two. The official press release and NWHL website reflect that Kelli Stack has in fact signed a contract: “Kelli Stack has signed a contract with the Connecticut Whale for the 2016-17 season, General Manager Lisa Giovanelli announced Sunday. Stack and the Whale agreed to terms on a one-year, $26,000 contract.”

Stack’s tweet from 10:02 PM would indicate otherwise.

[More at Excelle Sports: U.S. national team players expected to sign with NWHL clubs]

According to multiple sources familiar with negotiations, the players have negotiated as a unit.

Hannah Bevis posted a statement from the NWHL front office on the difference in language between “signed” and “will join” on Twitter:

The statement came after the coordinated social media statement from the players.

Meanwhile, Brant Feldman of AGM Sports, who represents Meghan Duggan as well as other Team USA players, clearly had a poor experience with NWHL PR after having previously given an inside positive look on the negotiations between the league and athletes. While there was no direct acknowledgement of contract status, it’s clear that the late night hustle to get the last of the roster moves announced before the midnight deadline has caused some friction.

The full thread is available at his twitter.

As for now, there still appear to be no signed contracts for Team USA players–though based on the statements and behind-the-scenes chatter, every indication points to the signing happening at some point this week. The late drama has avoided the worst-case scenario of the national team players choosing to walk rather than play in the NWHL’s second season, but it’s also proven to be another questionable look for the league.

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