As a woman who captained the American women's hockey team to a gold medal after a 20-year drought, Meghan Duggan has experience with lengthy battles to achieve lofty goals.
The current director of player development for the New Jersey Devils sees the emergence of the new women's pro hockey league — the PWHL — as the result of remarkably persistent efforts to put professional women's hockey on stable ground.
"A real large pool of female hockey players that spans a variety of generations in our entire careers have been fighting for a professional, sustainable, long-term league with a business model, and a vision and living wage for players that they could rely on," she says. "We've been fighting for that and hoping for that for a long time."
There have been a number of stops and starts trying to find a formula and organization that will stand the test of time, but Duggan is encouraged by the PWHL's ability to deliver on its promise.
"So many positives as well to take away from different leagues that have existed. And I think that's hopefully what the new league is all about," she says. "The hard work behind the scenes to get a players association and a CBA and all those things in place prior to launching the league, really fighting for, pushing, and working with the right groups to have just the right structure — and the right business model — long-term."
The new league's collective bargaining agreement was ratified in July, well ahead of its first games in January, 2024. It will remain in place for eight years, expiring in 2031.
"Those are the types of conversations that have come before anything else, before talking players, coaches, salaries and draft — which you would think right away would be the top things," Duggan says. "But digging in and not putting the cart before the horse and getting into a lot of the roots of what makes a business successful has been something this group's been working on."
The PWHL will not only create opportunities for players on its Original Six squads, it also stands to open up a world of possibilities to those looking to make an impact on the sport in an off-ice capacity. The impact there could be twofold.
Not only will the PWHL itself provide plenty of exciting positions within its teams and the league itself, it could also be a launchpad to other opportunities around hockey.
"Whether it's management, business operations, eventually owners of teams and all the staff that's a part of the team, the support staff, the equipment staff, I'm so excited to see the pipelines this is gonna create," Duggan says.
There are a great deal of questions to be answered between now and January. PWHL rosters need to be settled via free agency and the draft in the weeks to come. Teams' names and logos have yet to be determined. The 24-game schedule still hasn't been written.
One of the greatest uncertainties for this exciting new chapter in women's hockey is what the NHL's involvement with the burgeoning PWHL will be.
"What the NHL can do to support women's hockey has been kind of the biggest question looming over all of us the last couple years," Duggan says.
The NHL offered a statement of support on Tuesday, but it remains to be seen what concrete actions the league will take. Duggan is optimistic, in part due to the opportunities for cross-promotion in the six cites that have NHL and PWHL squads.
In her estimation, getting NHL clubs engaged with their PWHL counterparts is a win-win that could have a long-term positive impact.
"It's not only the right thing to do, I think, but it's good business," she says. "Bringing more women into the game, exposing more women to the NHL game, too — that's what a strong partnership between the two would do."