Ott, Leonoff Signings Top NWHL Offseason Goalie Moves
The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is now two months into its free agency period, which began on April 1. For the first month, teams could re-sign last season’s players and their draft picks from 2015. Since May 1, players could move to other teams and undrafted players not on the rosters in 2015-16 could be signed. This season, each team will sign only two goaltenders to roster spots instead of three, so some change was going to be necessary, and some surprises have already popped up.
Among players changing teams was former Connecticut Whale goaltender Jaimie Leonoff, who signed a $10,000 deal with the New York Riveters. This is not only a surprising move but a surprisingly low cap hit for the Riveters. It makes her the lowest-paid goaltender yet signed for the 2016-17 season, despite the fact that she is one of the league’s top goaltenders. She led the NWHL in save percentage last season (.936) and was often called on to carry a less than effective team.
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) March 6, 2016
Technically sound and a smooth skater, Leonoff solidifies the goaltending position for a Riveters team that looks to be very different from last year. Not only did they add one of the best goaltenders in the league, they have also signed Amanda Kessel, one of the best (and best-known) women’s players.
Does this move mean that Riveters’ goalie Nana Fujimoto will not be back? It is a question still how many foreign players will be able and willing to commit to another year with the NWHL, as most could not legally work outside of hockey. It’s quite a strain on a player to try to live in places like New York City with only a part-time salary, and there is some question at this point how many will come back.
Leonoff’s move also left the Whale with two open goaltender spots, one of which was filled by Shenae Lundberg. Lundberg was one of the players involved in the league’s first and only in-season trade last year. She and Connecticut’s Chelsea Laden swapped places in January. Between the two teams, Lundberg played only 3 games, mostly due to an injury that kept her out of the Riveters’ net for the early and middle part of the season. In her two games for the Whale, however, Lundberg posted a .920, and the Whale are undoubtedly hoping that she will be able to match that performance with a longer schedule. She will earn $15,000.
The Buffalo Beauts, meanwhile, signed their 2015 draft pick Amanda Leveille for $15,000. In her time at the University of Minnesota, Leveille posted a .947 in 118 games and earned three National Championships. Goaltending was a concern for the Beauts early on in the season last year, and Leveille looks to be a solid 1b option should the team bring back Brianne McLaughlin as is expected. If that does happen, Kimberly Sass and Amanda Makela could be reduced to practice player status (paid on a per game basis) with the Beauts. It is a tough decision to have to make, both for the team and the players.
Most recently, Brittany Ott, last season’s winner of the Best Goaltender award, has re-signed with the Boston Pride for $18,000. In 2015-16, Ott led the league in both wins and GAA and was second only to Leonoff in save percentage among starters. Smaller and more aggressive than Leonoff, Ott is known for her instinctual and reactive play in the net, as she told InGoal last March. “I’m only 5’3”. I can’t play too deep or too small. I play each one situationally.” The Pride still have yet to re-sign their core group of U.S. National Team players, but it is expected that they will once again sign as a group.
Meanwhile, one of the most anticipated signings of the NWHL offseason seemingly will not take place. In 2015, the Pride drafted Emerance Maschmeyer of Harvard University. After leading Canada to a silver medal in a beautiful goaltender’s duel with Team USA’s Alex Rigsby at the 2016 IIHF World Championships in April, Maschmeyer put her name in for the CWHL draft to be held later this summer. While it is still possible for Maschmeyer to join the Pride, this is an indication that she, like the rest of the the Canadian National team members, will not likely be joining the NWHL anytime soon.
At this moment there are four roster spots and four practice players for goaltenders open across the NWHL. Each team has signed one goaltender, but some of the bigger names from last season are as yet unaccounted for. Those include Nana Fujimoto and Brianne McLaughlin. (Jenny Scrivens announced her retirement from the game in May.) In addition, Kim Newell, drafted by the Riveters, is also currently unsigned.