Daryl Watts reconciled to pay cut in new women’s pro hockey league

Daryl Watts took a financial hit when the Premier Hockey League was bought out and the Professional Women’s Hockey League took its place.

The 24-year-old forward from Toronto signed a two-year contract in January with the PHF’s Toronto Six that would have paid her a league-record $150,000 US in 2023-24.

Within weeks of the Six winning the PHF championship Isobel Cup, it was announced that Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter had bought out the PHF and had also reached a collective bargaining agreement with players representing the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) to pave the way for a new league.

That voided PHF contracts, including the deal that would have made Watts that league’s highest-paid player.

Watts was chosen by Ottawa in the sixth round of Monday’s PWHL draft.

“Financially, sure, my contract was voided, but I think at the end of the day, competing against the best players in the world and for there to finally be one singular professional women’s league, that’s priceless,” Watts said during a media conference call with other Ottawa draft picks.

“Conversations with my family, at the very beginning it was like ‘Oh man, that’s a lot of money I’m going to miss out on.’ But then it’s like ‘No, that’s self-centred thinking.’ This is so good for the women’s game. It’s going to push the women’s game in an incredible direction.

“In 10 years, this league will have way more money than the PHF had.”

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‘Best interest of women’s hockey’

The PWHL’s salary range is $35,000 to $80,000. The league so far hasn’t disclosed player salaries after they’ve signed.

The CBA states that each team will carry a minimum six players signed to three-year contracts paying them $80,000 annually.

The PWHL’s average player salary in its inaugural season starting in January will be US$55,000.

“There’s still a significant amount of money for us to support ourselves,” Watts said.

The CBA also includes award and playoff bonuses, health and life insurance, long-term disability, relocation allowances and a retirement plan among other benefits.

The changing women’s hockey landscape put several former PHF players out of work, now that there’s more competition for fewer jobs.

“My heart does go out to some of my teammates in the PHF who bought houses in specific cities,” Watts said. “That was unfortunate, but I think at the end of the day, this is clearly what’s in the best interest of women’s hockey.

“I’m trying to prove I can compete with the best players in the world, which is something that this league gives the opportunity to [do].”

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Training with Gary Roberts

Watts ranks second all-time in NCAA women’s hockey scoring with 297 points in 172 games with Boston College first followed by Wisconsin from 2017 to 2022.

In her rookie year with the Boston College Eagles in 2018, Watts became the first freshman to win the Patty Kazmaier Award that goes to the top player in women’s Division 1 hockey.

She represented Canada at the world under-18 hockey championship in 2017 in a silver-medal effort. She also played for the national under-22 team in a three-game series against the United States in the summer of 2019.

Rising PHF salaries drew Watts out of retirement because she saw she could make a living in the game.

She was hockey rusty after signing with the Six in January. She had three goals and four assists in 12 games and contributed an assist in four playoff games.

Watt says she’s been training with former NHL player Gary Roberts since February to regain her hockey muscles, and added she crossed paths this past summer with his clients — NHL star Connor McDavid and top NHL prospect Connor Bedard.

“Kind of rubbing shoulders them was one of the coolest moments of my hockey career,” Watts said.

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