Friday, 5 April 2019

A New Challenger Appears

Let me preface this article by saying that Wednesday's entry where I asked that you embrace the NWHL as the last hope for professional women's hockey was a bit of a red herring. If you've been a follower of this blog for some time, you know that I've had a problem with the NWHL since nearly the founding of that league. Granted, I do believe they deserve credit for the good things they have done - expansion to Minnesota, their social media presence, and the relationships they have with NHL clubs - but I still firmly believe that their model for women's hockey is highly unsustainable due to the fact investors can walk away any time they seemingly like. In saying that, today's news had been known by me for a number of days, but I had agreed to keep the story quiet.

In a release today, former CWHL board member and financial supporter W. Graeme Roustan proposed to the current CWHL board for his taking over of the board and replacing it with board members of his choosing in order to keep the CWHL running. He wrote, "I would like to immediately move forward with replacing all of you as Directors/Members and bring in my own team of Directors/Members with the intent of carrying on the CWHL next season and beyond," and asked for a response from the CWHL Board of Directors by Friday, April 12 at noon eastern-time.

Record scratch, double-take, and we now have a potential new future for women's hockey.

Look, there's absolutely zero information that Roustan has published or released that says that what he wants to do will work. We do know he left the CWHL board after being denied the opportunity to see financial documents about the league, and there's more than a good chance he took his money he giving to the league for their operations with him. In saying this, we do know that Roustan is a venture capitalist - he has money - and he owns The Hockey News - he's a hockey fan - so it seems that he's positioned well to take the reins and steer the CWHL away from the dark chasm of nothingness if the board agrees to turn over the league to him.

Of course, they may opt not to do that, possibly out of spite for what Roustan did, and that's within their rights. What does Roustan do at that point with the CWHL all but dead and gone?

I went down a Google rabbit hole today and found that he's been working at establishing some sort of women's hockey league since leaving the CWHL as this new business was registered with the Federal Government on February 25, 2019. Roustan, for the record, left the CWHL in late November 2018, so it seems he either saw the writing on the wall with his departure or he was willing to wait for the right moment to act.

With the NHL throwing their support behind the NWHL, one has to wonder if Roustan will be able to compete with the American-based league if he's granted what he wishes in taking over the CWHL. Again, Roustan has money and is connected to people who have money, so he may have investors and buyers lined up already. If he includes the players at the board room table, he'll likely get full buy-in from the CWHLPA as the 120-or-so players that found themselves out of work on Sunday suddenly find themselves employed once more. Sponsors and investors that partnered with the CWHL before could continue their working relationships with the CWHL as well, although I suspect that Roustan and his board will want to review those relationships as well.

In other words, this may be the phoenix that truly rises from the ashes if CWHL Board Chair Laurel Walzak and the rest of the board of directors vote to turn over control to Roustan. This is where there may be some trouble as Walzak can't let personal differences and hurt feelings regarding what Roustan said about her affect the futures of 120 women who find themselves without a home. Whatever personal problems there are between Roustan and members of the CWHL Board of Directors, they should not enter the discussion when it comes to this vote in turning over control to Roustan. Humans are fallible, however, so I hope they can see the bigger picture and put personal squabbles aside.

If the vote results in the board denying Roustan the opportunity to assume control, it seems as though he may have an answer on May 1 with the International Women's Hockey League already registered as a business and ready to start doing business. Yes, there will be all sorts of things to sort out if the vote is denied - trademarks for team logos and names, negotiating new contracts for rinks, and more - but whatever happens over the next week, it seems that W. Graeme Roustan was true to his word when he said he would continue fighting for women's hockey in this country.

The next few weeks should be very interesting on the women's hockey front with this new development.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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