Per her agent, Nic Mayne, Kaleigh Fratkin will not be returning to the Connecticut Whale next season. Instead, she will remain in the NWHL and explore the remaining three teams once free agency begins on May 1.
This is a big hit for Connecticut’s blue line. Fratkin, one of the team’s alternate captains, was an anchor on defense this past year, playing in all 18 games for the Whale and amassing 17 points (5G, 12A), the most of any Connecticut defender. Her five goals on 38 shots were good for a 13.2 shooting percentage, and she also led the team with 40 penalty minutes. She also played in all three playoff games for the Whale, earning an assist in the first round against the Buffalo Beauts.
She earned a salary of $20,000 last season, which was the sixth-highest paycheck for a defender in the NWHL. She’s proved herself as a top-pairing defender and could fit in well on any team in the league.
Fratkin released the following statement via her agent:
“After long consideration I’ve decided to test the free agent market. I’d like to thank the Whale organization for everything they’ve done and my teammates for an unforgettable first year in the NWHL.”
Fratkin is the first player to openly state that they would not be returning to their former team. Ten players have re-signed with their former teams, and while the rights to some draft picks have been exchanged between New York and Connecticut, no other player from last season has expressed interest in moving teams.
There’s arguments for Fratkin to join any of the other three teams in the NWHL. She formerly played for the Boston Blades in 2014 – 2015 as a part of the Clarkson Cup winning squad and also attended Boston University, which makes the Boston Pride a potential landing spot. She was also notably the first Canadian to sign with the NWHL, which doesn’t rule out Buffalo, though Fratkin is originally from B.C., on the country’s other coast. New York stands out as a potential landing target because of their previous relationship with the Whale — the NWHL’s only trade was between the Riveters and the Whale when Connecticut sent Chelsea Laden in exchange for Shenae Lundberg. New York and Connecticut have also swapped two pairs of draft picks’ rights, and are the closest cities in the NWHL, which would make a potential move easiest for Fratkin if she wants to stay in the area.
It’s hard to see Fratkin signing with Boston unless they make some major moves on the blue line — the Pride were stacked with national team players like Kacey Bellamy and Gigi Marvin and proven defenders in Blake Bolden and Alyssa Gagliardi, the latter of whom has already re-signed with the Pride for $14,000.
Meanwhile, Buffalo and New York are both in desperate need for defenders to help boost their blue lines. If the Beauts Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek stay, they could stay afloat, but the Riveters struggled with defense the entire season as Ashley Johnston and Kiira Dosdall held the group together by a thread. Either team should be banging down Fratkin’s door to sign with them, and if it should get into a bidding war, Fratkin could see her paycheck from last year matched or even see an increase.
The Whale have signed just one player for next season in Kelly Babstock, and while there’s still plenty of time for the Whale to re-sign their players before free agency ends on July 31, but when an alternate captain like Fratkin decides she wants to move to another team, it raises some eyebrows.