NWHL Free Agency Ends with a Fizzle, Not a Bang

You’ve probably already seen this announcement if you stayed up to midnight to watch the end of the NWHL’s free agent signing period, but things ended last night on a somewhat curious note.

Signings took a while to trickle in, with the first reported signings being Bray Ketchum, formerly of the Boston Blades, signing with the New York Riveters, Kelsie Fralick, a goaltender who recently finished out a college career at Connecticut College, signing with the Boston Blades, and Jessica Fickel going to the Buffalo Beauts after a college career with Brock University. Fickel is also the third CIS player to sign with the NWHL.

Then we started to get reports of players “agreeing to play” for a couple NWHL teams. First, Zoe Hickel agreed to play for Boston. Hickel is a former University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog, and a member of the US Women’s National Team that won gold at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in 2015.

Molly Engstrom, a two-time Olympian who earned a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics, and was a bronze medalist in the 2006 Olympics, also agreed to play, this time with the Whale. Engstrom is a former Wisconsin Badger, playing there from 2001-2005, where she was a top-10 finalist for the 2005 Patty Kaz award. She also played in the early days of the CWHL, winning the CWHL’s first championship with the Mississauga Chiefs, and later went to the Clarkson Cup Final with the Whitecaps in 2010, and the Thunder in 2012. She ended her CWHL career with the Blades in 2013.

Finally, Hannah McGowan, from Adrian College, has signed with the Buffalo Beauts, while Erin Barley-Maloney, from Cornell, has agreed to play for the Riveters.

We haven’t gotten any clarification yet on the difference between “agreed to play” and “signed”, but I’d speculate that an agreement is in place, but the players haven’t signed something yet. We’ll have more on that as we know.

The eagle-eyed and mathematically inclined of you may have noticed that there still appear roster spots open. Well, the NWHL announced at midnight that while free agency is over, and all 72 roster slots are filled, they will not yet be announcing the names of the last couple players just yet.

Out of respect for the players, the NWHL has agreed to not announce the remaining players’ intent to play in the league until they receive official releases from other leagues.

This is rather interesting, especially in light of the recent article from The Cut, that claimed Hilary Knight was going to sign with an NWHL team. As yet, we have not heard anything about Knight signing. Possibly she is one of the players waiting for an official release. If you recall, in one of Kate Cimini’s articles for Today’s Slapshot, the CWHL’s director of Marketing and Communications, Jennifer Smith said that the league “[does] not bind any player who does not wish to play here”. So, what’s likely, if Knight is signing with the NWHL, is that the NWHL is waiting on official word back from the CWHL about that release.

We’re not just waiting on Knight signing, however– there are 11 spots that haven’t been announced yet! It’s likely that there are either other players from the CWHL waiting to be released, or possibly from European leagues, or the Russian women’s league. To be really honest, I’m wondering how much the midnight deadline was playing in here– that’s kind of a rough time of night to call up other leagues and GMs about getting players released.

So basically: keep calm, guys, the rest of the signings will trickle out soon enough.