NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN that last year the league played a key role in ending the dispute between USA Hockey and the women's national team by helping to bridge the large wage gap in salary between the men's and women's team. The NHL agreed to pay USA Hockey $25,000 per player to equalize wages between the men's and women's players and help fund the league's four-year agreement to support the women's team. The agreement had remained something of a secret until this week.
In March of last year, just two weeks before the start of the World Championships, the women's national team engaged in a lengthy dispute with USA Hockey over what they perceived as gender inequity. By comparison, the women's team had far more recent success than the men's team. At the time of the dispute, the women were coming off three straight titles earned at the IIHF Women's World Championship, yet they earned tens of thousands of dollars less than their male counterparts, lacked the same travel and insurance benefits, and received far less media coverage.
The women's team demanded fair and equal treatment with the men's team and threatened to boycott international tournaments, starting with the world championships. USA Hockey refused their demands on the grounds of their financial inability to meet them, and began to actively seek younger players who would join the team and serve as a sort of "strike breaker" should the women's players proceed with a boycott.
Then, suddenly, on March 28 the stalemate ended. The women's team demands were met and everyone involved commenced with business as usual. As it turned out, it was business unusual with the revelation that the NHL had stepped in to end the stalemate.
The settlement raised the wages of women's national team players to around $71,000 each. The U.S. Olympic Committee pays between $14,000-$21,000 per player in a tiered stipend system in which star players make the higher end of the scale while newcomers and bench players receive the lower end. USA Hockey pays about $30,000 of that salary. The NHL contribution makes up the rest. The national team is also eligible for performance bonuses above their salary. Players earned an extra $37,500 in tax-free bonus for winning the Olympic gold medal in February.
The NHL has remained coy as to why it chose to step into the dispute, and why it chose to keep it a secret for so long.
"We already direct a large amount of support dollars to USA Hockey on an annual basis to promote hockey development in the U.S., " Daly said.
"When the issue with the women's team arose last year, USA Hockey had to find dollars to reallocate to the women's program and they were still facing a sizable gap in funding. We felt like it was the right thing to do to help them cover that gap or shortfall."