Sunday marked the first day of NWHL free agency, and it certainly was a big day for the league. Big stars from last season left their teams to sign elsewhere, and one of the biggest name in women’s hockey signed her first NWHL contract. There is a lot to be excited about as the NWHL’s second season approaches, and we’ve got all the information you need on the first day of free agency:
New York Riveters Dominate First Day
Amanda Kessel signing with an NWHL team is arguably the biggest story to come out of the first day of free agency. Her $26,000 contract with the Riveters is the largest in league history thus far, and explains why other stars (like Jaimie Leonoff) may have taken significant pay cuts to help keep the Riveters under the league’s salary cap.
Kessel is a women’s hockey legend, scoring 108 goals throughout her college career with the Minnesota Gophers. She scored the game-winning goal for the Gophers in this year’s National Championship versus Boston College. In 2013, she won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award for being the best player in women’s NCAA hockey that season.
Kessel has also had a notable National Team career, winning the silver medal with Team USA in the Sochi Olympics. There is no doubt Kessel will be an incredible asset for the Riveters, but there is a question mark surrounding her health. She sustained a concussion while playing with Team USA in 2014, and lingering symptoms kept her out of the game for over a year until she made her return to the Gophers at the end of the 2015-2016 season.
Regardless, Kessel’s incredible offensive firepower will be huge for a Riveters’ team that struggled to score all season, especially if New York can sign Kessel’s former University of Minnesota teammate Hannah Brandt, who recently had her rights traded to the Riveters from the Connecticut Whale.
Fratkin had a great year with the Connecticut Whale last season, having 5 goals with 12 assists. Her decision to sign with the New York Riveters is a big one, and Hannah Bevis from Along the Boards has more about it here.
Fratkin’s decision to go to New York is a huge boost for the Riveters. The team already brought back the glue of their defensive core in Ashley Johnston and Kiira Dosdall, but it was evident that New York needed quite a bit of help on their blue line. Fratkin could play some top-line minutes for the Rivs, and lift some of the pressure off of Johnston and Dosdall, spreading out minutes more evenly so the two returners don’t have to play more 30+ minute games. If
Another former Whale player signing with the Riveters, Jaimie Leonoff was one of the league’s best goaltenders last season. In nine games played with the Whale, she posted a .936 save percentage. Leonoff was a real difference-maker for the Whale, who often struggled on defense, especially as the season went on and injuries started piling up.
Leonoff signing with the Riveters is particularly interesting, especially given that she signed for the league minimum salary of $10,000. Though Leonoff only earned the league minimum last year too, her rapid rise to stardom and the starting position on the Whale left the door open for a much higher contract. But factors like playing in New York (and on a team with players like Kessel and Fratkin) may have provided incentives to take less than what she could have earned.
The fact that both Leonoff and Fratkin signed together packs a truly devastating punch to the Whale, especially after they got back one of their star forwards in Kelly Babstock. Fratkin was a top-pairing defender and Leonoff rapidly ascended to the top of the Whale’s goalie depth chart.
One thing’s for sure: New York will be a force to be reckoned with this next season.