While the New York Riveters are making huge waves in the free agency market, the Buffalo Beauts have been relatively quiet, only signing a few players thus far. While it may seem as though they are lacking in comparison to teams like the Riveters, the Beauts really seem to be building a roster that will bring them more consistency and cohesion going into the next season.
Key Players Re-Signed
So much has been said about Kelley Steadman’s importance to the Buffalo Beauts that speaking more about it almost feels redundant. On Wednesday, Steadman signed with the Beauts for the new season, with a salary of $15,000. Despite her status as a practice player, Steadman was the difference maker for Buffalo. She lead the league with an average of 2.00 points per game, and she lead the Beauts in points with 13 goals and seven assists. She also was the first player to receive the NWHL “Player of the Week” honor twice, and she was the MVP of the NWHL All-Star Game.
Steadman’s success with the Beauts last season made a lot of people reevaluate the way practice players are perceived by the league, the media, and the fans. The NWHL’s practice players were not seen as “less than” the full-time roster players. Many of them quickly became fan favorites due to their success and undeniable work ethic, and some, like Steadman, seemed to play every weekend. Steadman is the first former practice player to sign with an NWHL team this offseason.
Having Steadman as a full-time roster member is a huge step in the right direction for the Beauts. They know Steadman is reliable and can bring an offensive punch, which is crucial when facing teams with players like Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel.
The Beauts also recently announced the re-signing of Shelby Bram, another key player. Bram wore the “A” for Buffalo last season, and she tallied 10 points in the regular season. The Beauts found chemistry and success in the latter half of last season, and bringing back some of the big pieces will hopefully help build a team with that familiarity and team chemistry from day one.
Changes in Goal, Consistency on the Blue Line
A rock in goal for the Minnesota Gophers the past four years, Amanda Leveille was drafted 12th overall by the Beauts in the inaugural NWHL draft. She was the first draft pick to sign with the team, and she will be an excellent addition to the Beauts. The goaltending in Buffalo has long been a story; former U.S. National Team standout Brianne McLaughlin had a hard time in goal for the Beauts in the first half of the season. Before the All-Star break, McLaughlin had an .870 save percentage and a 5.40GAA. While not all of the difficulty falls on McLaughlin, it will be good for the Beauts to have another solid option in goal. Leveille ended her season with the Gophers with a 1.28 GAA, something from which Buffalo could really benefit.
The Beauts are also bringing consistency back to the blue line. The first player to re-sign with the Beauts was Paige Harrington, who played in all regular season and playoff games for Buffalo. It seems as though the offseason narrative for the Beauts is going to be consistency, and signing Harrington is a step in the right direction in that regard.
A Veteran Presence
The Buffalo Beauts recently announced the signing of Lisa Chesson, a U.S. National Team veteran who won silver in the Vancouver Olympics. Chesson is an offensive minded defenseman, having totaled 89 points in her college career at Ohio State. While Buffalo is probably hoping for offense from their new left shot defensemen, Chesson will bring a lot more to the team than just being stellar on the blue line. Chesson is a veteran, and she will bring that into the locker room. Her knowledge from her years on the national team will help the Beauts greatly as they play with and against other players with national team experience.
Still Some Big Question Marks for Beauts
While the Beauts are taking a step in the right direction, there are still a few big question marks going into next season as to what the team will look like come September. While the re-signing of Kelley Steadman is incredible for Buffalo, will the other half of the near unstoppable Steadman/Duggan duo, Meghan Duggan, be returning? Duggan and Steadman were almost always on the ice for each other’s goals. It would be a major blow to the Beauts if Duggan didn’t return, but it’s not implausible, she may want to join a team with more of her national team teammates, like the Pride or the Riveters.
Another question mark for return is Megan Bozek, a standout on defense for the Beauts last season. Bozek made $22,500 last season, and she may be (rightly) expecting a pay raise for this new season. The Beats are already almost halfway to the amount of money they spent on defense last season, and that’s only with two players signed. It will certainly be interesting to see which players return to the Beauts in the coming weeks, and if any sign elsewhere.
A reminder: cap space and the draft tax plays a huge role in who signs where within the league. Michelle Jay from the Along the Boards has made a very useful Salary Cap Tracker, which will be updated throughout the offseason.