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Can Women Play in the NHL?

Can Women Play in the NHL?

Can Women Play in the NHL?

While the NHL is often seen as a men’s league, and historically has been played as such, the question of whether or not a woman can play in the NHL is one that is asked repeatedly and often. 

In this article, we are going to review whether or not a woman can play in the NHL and why an NHL team may, or may not, choose to draft a female hockey player.

In addition, we are going to take a look at some of the best women hockey players to play the game of hockey and fully determine whether or not they would have had an opportunity to play in the NHL.

And lastly, we will be discussing just why no NHL team has recruited a female player and whether or not that is likely to change in the near future.

Quick Answer

While, historically, the NHL has been seen as a men’s hockey league, the creation of the PHF, or Premier Hockey Federation, was created to offer female hockey players an opportunity to compete at the highest levels.

Formed and established in 2015, the Premier Hockey Federation is a women’s professional ice hockey league that is located in both the United States and Canada and is the first women’s professional hockey league to pay its players.

Founded by Dani Rylan in March 2015, the Premier Hockey Federation was originally established with just four teams and has since grown to six teams, those teams being the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, and the Toronto Six.

With an estimated $2.5 million operating budget, the PHF looked to provide professional women ice hockey players an opportunity to showcase their hockey skills while getting paid for their efforts.

And prior to the establishment of the PHF, professional ice hockey women players often opted to play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which at the time only paid off of bonuses and incentives, but not a set salary.

The Premier Hockey Federation, however, has set a minimum salary of $10,000 and a maximum cap of $270,000 per team. This cap has allowed, for the first time in North America, for professional female hockey players, to get paid on their work.

However, simply basing the question as to whether or not a woman can play in the NHL based off of the current NHL rules and regulations, there is, in fact, no rule stating that players in the NHL must be of the male gender. 

In fact, based on the current rulebook and guidelines within the NHL, a player’s gender and gender identity is neither mentioned nor required to be male.

This means, that theoretically, a woman can be drafted and can play in the NHL.  And while few instances of this occurring have happened, it is not beyond the realm of possibility and is, in fact, a likely scenario if a female player of the proper caliber, strength, and hockey IQ comes along.

Women in the NHL

Although there have been few women players to play in the NHL, there are a few players to have general associations to the league and one female player to actively participate in an NHL game.

  • Manon Rhéaume – a Canadian ice hockey goaltender, she is an Olympic silver medalist and in 1992 signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing in preseason exhibition games in 1992 and 1993.
  • Evelyn Byng – Evelyn Byng, Viscountess Byng of Vimy, was the wife of Lord Byng, the 12th Governor General of Canada. She is best known for donating the Lady Byng Trophy to the NHL in 1925. She and her husband were both fans of ice hockey. They donated the trophy because Lady Byng appreciated gentlemanly play and good sportsmanship and wanted to encourage and reward it.
  • Marguerite Norris – Marguerite Norris was a former ice hockey executive and the first female team executive in the history of the NHL.
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield – Kendall Coyne Schofield is a professional ice hockey player and is a current member of the United States women’s national ice hockey team. With the national team, she has won six gold medals at the IIHF World Women’s Championships and the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. In addition, she has also been a color commentator for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and was hired by the Chicago Blackhawks as a player development coach for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

Why Aren’t More Women Drafted to the NHL?

Although Manon Rhéaume played for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their exhibition games, no other female hockey player has been drafted or played in the NHL since.

But why exactly aren’t more women drafted to the NHL?  And while the answer may appear straightforward, there are a few additional reasons why.

  • Height – perhaps the most important reason as to why more women aren’t drafted to the NHL is simply due to height.  The average height of an NHL player is 6’1”.  And in the NHL, a league with many players standing in above 6-feet or more, height matters.
  • Weight – similarly, many female hockey players simply lack the proper weight to compete in the NHL.  On average, NHL players weigh in at 201-pounds, with much of that weight being stored as muscle.  And when fighting for positioning, decking a player, or maintaining coverage, weight matters. 
  • Strength – in addition to the above, men, on average, have more strength than their female counterparts.  And in the NHL, and the game of hockey, strength plays a large role on both the offensive and defensive end.  And while many female players have great hockey IQ’s, the simple lack of proper strength, as compared to their male counterparts, makes them a vulnerability on the court.
  • Hockey Abilities – and lastly, men typically play hockey at a higher level than their female counterparts.  Quite simply, it comes down to physiology and muscle mass.  As men, typically, have more muscle mass than women, they are able to skate faster, shoot from further away, and hit harder than their female counterparts.

Could a Female Player be Drafted to the NHL?

Although women have not been overly represented in the NHL, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for a women hockey player to make it, or be drafted to, the NHL or to an NHL team.

While there are physical differences between male and female hockey players, a female hockey player who can effectively showcase their hockey skills and hockey IQ could be an invaluable resource for an NHL team.

And while male hockey players are generally faster and stronger, female players tend to be a bit more agile and have shown increased bursts of speed and quickness, skills that are essential in the major league’s.

Although time will only tell, we expect to see a female hockey player in the NHL within the next decade.