Despite ending her NCAA hockey career as the second-highest scoring player in NCAA women’s hockey history, Daryl Watts faced a difficult decision. Opportunities to play professional hockey were limited, especially if she wanted to earn a living wage.
She had been accepted into a master’s program in commercial real estate with the prospect of earning six-figure sums soon. Alternatively, her lifelong dream of playing hockey was over. At age 23, she considered herself retired from the game because the PWHPA and PHF just weren’t paying sustainable wages.
That was, until the PHF announced that the salary cap would be raised to $1.5 million next season. That news sent Watts’ head spinning. She told her parents she would be out of school this year and soon signed with the PHF’s Toronto Six.
As it turns out, the six-figure sums Watts had hoped for were already hers, as she signed a two-year contract that will pay her $150,000 next season. The contract is the largest in women’s hockey history, crushing Mikyla Grant-Mentis’ $80,000 contract she signed with the Buffalo Beauts this season.
However, for Watts, it wasn’t about breaking records, it was about breaking the glass ceiling and opening doors for future generations of women in professional hockey.
“Women’s hockey has been struggling for so long. I think a number like this will give the women’s hockey community a great relief and a great sense of hope that the future is bright,” Watts said of her record deal.
“This is a big step forward for women’s hockey. When I was young I think I would have been excited to know that professional women’s hockey players can now earn a significant amount of money. It’s a good day for women’s sports and women’s hockey.”
From a retired 23-year-old hockey player pursuing a career in real estate to a rookie in North America’s only women’s professional hockey league, Watts’ perspective quickly changed.
“When I considered myself retired I was so excited about what my future would look like without hockey because hockey had been my life for so long,” she said. “It was nice to have a new perspective, but my perspective changed.
“The opportunity to make a good living playing the sport I first fell in love with – what a dream come true.”
It’s an experience female athletes in North America have with professional leagues that pay six-figure salaries, including the WNBA (basketball) and NWSL (football).
The WNBA salary cap will be $1,420,500 for 2023. It is a number lower than the PHF, although WNBA players with fewer roster spots will earn more on average than players in the PHF. The NWSL salary cap was also recently increased, increasing their limit per team to $1,375,000.
With a higher salary comes more focus on the league and more players choosing the PHF instead of playing for the PWHPA, going to Europe or retiring.
Of the last five Patty Kazmaier Award winners, representing the top women’s hockey player in the NCAA, three are currently in the PHF, while a fourth – last year’s winner Taylor Heise – is still in the NCAA. Watts won the award himself in 2017-2018. Similarly, last year’s Canadian College Player of the Year Jade Downie-Landry is also in the PHF and plays for the expansion Montreal Force.
Watts believes it is a clear sign “that the young veteran players are starting to move into the PHF,” which she called the “future of women’s hockey because the next generation is now here.”
Last season with Wisconsin, Watts scored 57 points and 28 goals in just 38 games. While the Toronto product could focus on adding her personal accolades, for now her intent is to be an ambassador for the game, helping young girls see opportunities in the PHF and professional women’s hockey.
“I hope to grow women’s hockey and establish a professional league that young girls can look up to and where salary compensation is enough to support them, which is why I believe in the PHF,” said Watts.
Having represented Canada twice at the U-18 World Championship and collecting a pair of silver medals, Watts isn’t sure where the future will take her, but she’s not ruling anything out, including competing again for a roster spot on Team Canada. Until then, she’s excited to get back to playing the game she loves, and making a living doing it.
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