Three months later, the C.W.H.L. began paying players for the first time. Under a salary cap of 100,000 Canadian dollars, player stipends ranged from $2,000 to $10,000. That figure was the same this season, but there were signs that the growth of the league was not as bountiful as had been expected, including the Chinese clubs’ merging into one franchise this season.
Walzak and Jayna Hefford, who took over as interim commissioner when Brenda Andress left the organization last summer, said that China was a great opportunity for the league and that the clubs in Asia provided significant funding but that the expenses of running five North American teams, compounded with the exhaustive efforts to build sponsorships, ticket and merchandise sales in the United States and Canada, were straining the C.W.H.L. model.
“The infrastructure wasn’t there to make it work,” said Brant Feldman, an agent who has represented several Olympic and pro women’s hockey players. “You need a full-time staff to go out and market the sport, sell tickets, do sponsorships, understand integrated marketing communications and operate the professional sport. Neither league has that.”
Walzak said that the board was in the process of sorting out its finances from this season but that it expected that all payments owed would be made soon.
The C.W.H.L. had relationships with several N.H.L. teams and the N.H.L. players’ association, but the N.H.L. has always appeared hesitant to embrace professional women’s hockey, choosing not to get in between the two North American leagues. Last November, W. Graeme Roustan, a noted investor in hockey ventures who said he was the largest investor in the league, announced that he was withdrawing his funding.
In a statement on Sunday, an N.H.L. spokesman indicated that the news would not result in any changes from the league’s perspective. The statement said: “The N.H.L.’s position has been consistent for some time and remains unchanged with this news: we would consider starting a women’s league if there were no alternatives for women to play professionally in North America.”
The N.H.L.P.A. also issued a statement, which said: “While this news is certainly disappointing — for the fans as well as the players — we hope that appropriate opportunities for these players will be available soon. We wish the players all the best.”