Anya Battaglino in action. Image by: Courtesy of NWHL.
Meet Anya Battaglino, Connecticut Whales forward and new head of the NWHL Players’ Association. She’s on a mission not just to earn more respect for her fellow athletes, but for women in general.
Anya Battaglino had the job locked up. She was ready for an exciting new role as a tech sales rep in Stamford, Conn.,, but something didn’t quite sit right. Her new employer told her what her salary would be and, in her heart, she knew she had to take a risk and speak up. She asked him if he felt the number offered to her was appropriate and whether a male employee with the same qualifications would earn the same figure. Her frankness may not have landed her the number she truly deserved in the end, but it helped. Her employer listened.
“It did change where I was as the start of the conversation vs. the end of the conversation,” she said.
“That’s what sports gives women.”
It’s a strong-willed, inspirational perspective, befitting a leader of people, and that’s precisely what Battaglino has become. By day, Battaglino holds down that tech sales job, but she moonlights as a forward for the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale, and she was named director of the NWHL Players’ Association earlier this month.
She feels competing as a professional athlete, in North America’s first paying women’s hockey league, has rubbed off on other aspects of her life, made her more confident and willing to stand up for what she knows is right. She sees the value in athletics for all women. She’s realistic in her expectations for women’s salaries in pro sports – she knows they won’t become millionaires overnight, even if they deserve to – but she believes female athletes must respect themselves more. That means, she says, an equipment sponsorship deal should earn NWHL players some money. Speaking engagements should be paid gigs if they aren’t for charitable causes. Women provide just as much value as men in these arenas and deserve to be treated like the role models they are.
“We’re professional athletes, too, and we have that poise to say ‘No, I’m not just going to take your stick for free and give you free marketing,’ “ she said. “Why don’t you give me something or appreciate what I do?’
“It’s the principle. It’s saying, ‘If you pay Zdeno Chara $7,000 to come speak at your engagement, that’s wrong.’ Women have a very different story to tell, and it’s important.”
As you might guess, being named NWHLPA director wasn’t a case of the league and commissioner Dani Rylan searching endlessly for appropriate union heads and prompting teams to nudge candidates forward. No, Battaglino was first in line, volunteering herself. The decision was extremely easy for Rylan to make.
“It was obvious Anya wanted to take over the director role and that it was a perfect position for her,” Rylan said. “She believes in this league, and she understands the business as well as the player side and has always been such a great ambassador for the sport and the players.”
“Always” is right. Battaglino had been gradually growing into the role for years. The seeds were sown during her days attending Boston University and playing for the Terriers. She had no major leadership aspirations at the time but was forced to join a student athlete support group as a freshman walk-on. The happy accident lit a spark.
“I really fell in love with that,” she said. “I like viewing athletes in a position of power, saying, ‘Your kids should meet these people. They are doing something amazing in their own right, and they should be treated that way.’ You start looking at athletes in a different way, as a benefit to the community as opposed to just a part of it.”
Battaglino understood the privilege of playing at the highest level of women’s hockey and how she could stand out as a role model to inspire other young athletes. Before taking over as NWHLPA director, she was already prominent on social media, known for wearing GoPro cameras to document her practices and even providing some color commentary for games. She was a natural fit as player union champion. She also oozes leadership. She speaks loudly, passionately, words dripping with conviction. She has big ideas and a magnetic personality.
"I’m going to be trying to monetize my players’ time and help them to feel they’re valuable. I don't think women’s professional athletes think they are valuable, and that breaks my heart.”
“She is incredibly charismatic, outgoing, and really one of the more kind-hearted people that I’ve encountered over the last couple years on this venture,” Rylan said. “I’m incredibly honored to be working alongside her as we continue to grow as a business and make something special for the players.”
Battaglino never seems to waste a breath when she speaks, every thought she shares seemingly a meaningful quip, and maybe that’s because she actually doesn’t have time for small talk. Her average day is jaw-droppingly busy. It starts at about 5:00 a.m. She catches up on work emails she may have received overnight, as she deals with people from the west coast in her job. She gulps down a quick breakfast and hits the train by 7:00. During that two-hour commute, she dons her NWHLPA hat. She studies where the league’s dollars are allocated. She searches for causes the players can associate themselves with, such as the epically impactful 2017 Women’s March. She hunts for potential sponsorship in companies expressing love for women’s sports. She looks for speaking engagements and other ways in which the league can give back to the community. She explores publicity opportunities through the media. She works tirelessly with Rylan to get the players and league office in more of a dialogue, as Battaglino lists lack of communication within the young organization as a major early hurdle.
Then she arrives at work for her day job at 9:00. At lunch: back on the NWHL beat, where she’ll often hop on a phone call with Rylan. Then it’s work until 5:30, and more NWHL on that train home. Then she has an hour to get ready for her Whale practice at 8:40. She’s home by 10:30 and somehow expected to turn off her brain and sleep. She estimates she gets five hours of shuteye per night. And that might be too optimistic considering Rylan says she’ll sometimes get a text from Battaglino at 4:30 a.m.
So Battaglino clearly puts a lot of sweat into everything she does, and that’s what it will take to get the NWHL to new levels of popularity and the players to earn the living they deserve. Rylan said the league is a full go for Season 3, but sponsorship has remained relatively sparse, and player salaries got slashed by 38 percent this season in the interest of prolonging the league’s life. That’s a devastating number for a circuit in which the minimum pay was $10,000 and top earners Kelli Stack and Amanda Kessel got $25,000 and $26,000.
Battaglino didn’t take the news as a defeat. The day of the salary announcement, she tweeted: “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and prove ourselves now, @NWHL. Hearing ‘No’ never stopped me before…you taught me that.” And she sees a few different ways she can effect change as NWHLPA director. One is to make the sport more appealing to new fans by being more inclusive and inspiring people through sharing personal stories – something that has traditionally been stigmatized on the men’s side of hockey, at least until recently.
“I am very open about mental health awareness, trying to tell people my life hasn’t always been easy, but I have gotten to this great place in my life,” she said. “Making a kid do something like that who doesn't have hope or doesn’t think they can achieve great things, being open and honest about the problems and questions and the hardships, it makes it more relatable. Maybe a little girl read my story and was feeling down on herself, and maybe she brushed it off and went to practice that day, because I know there were times when I couldn’t.”
The natural issue for a PA director to target, likely the first one most of us think of, is player salaries. Battaglino considers herself a realist on the topic. She believes it would take at least a decade for female pro players to earn a full-time living. She doesn’t think she or the other players have reached a juncture where they can give up the separate, often highly fulfilling non-hockey lives they’ve built for themselves. She does, however, see piecemeal ways to earn better pay for NWHLPA players. It starts with proper compensation for equipment sponsorships and public appearances. Rylan says she’s discussed the topic with Battaglino and that they’re working on a platform through which players can book themselves for appearances, youth practices or to be ambassadors for certain brands – and be paid accordingly. Doing so would give the NWHLers some supplementary income while the league continues to grow and hopefully work its way back to the salary benchmarks set in year 1.
“I’m going to be trying to monetize my players’ time and help them to feel they’re valuable,” Battaglino said. “I don't think women’s professional athletes think they are valuable, and that breaks my heart.”
Her words evoke real emotion. The NWHL hasn’t yet achieved solid financial footing, and its existence remains year to year, but it’s now armed with a potent weapon, a player rep bursting with passion and ideas, and that can only help the league’s chances of surviving and thriving. What Battaglino really wants us to understand is that the NWHL and women’s sports in general can’t be treated merely as fun startup projects. They really matter. They have a role to play in the world, and it transcends sports entertainment.
“One of the things I always say is get your girls to play hockey, because it doesn’t change the world you live in, but it changes the amount of confidence you have,” Battaglino said. “Even though you’re getting paid less than the guy who didn't do half as well, it gives you the poise, dignity and confidence to go advocate for yourself, your work, your life.”
Rookies William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Nikita Zaitsev.
The Maple Leafs suddenly have as much as $15 million to work with at the trade deadline which they could use to make a big deal; Avalanche stars could stay put.
The rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs are among this season's most-improved clubs. After finishing at the bottom of the standings last season, the Leafs are jockeying for a post-season berth in the Eastern Conference.
Despite this improvement, the Leafs still have some roster weaknesses to address. Their most-pressing need is a skilled puck-moving defenseman. With the playoffs in sight, perhaps the Leafs could address that need by the trade deadline.
That possibility increased when Sportsnet's Chris Johnston last week reported the Leafs quietly placed injured players Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve. The moves give the Leafs flexibility in the form of an additional $15 million in salary-cap space.
With that kind of space, the Leafs have room to pursue a big-name player at the trade deadline. They've been linked in recent weeks to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Despite the Blues' recent resurgence, TSN's Darren Dreger claims the 28-year-old Shattenkirk remains in play.
The asking price for Shattenkirk is thought to be at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. While the Leafs have the depth to meet that return, they could be unwilling to do so unless Shattenkirk, who's eligible in July for unrestricted free agency, is willing to sign a long-term extension.
If Shattenkirk proves too costly for the Leafs, more affordable options include Buffalo Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and New Jersey Devils rearguard Kyle Quincey. If they want additional depth at forward, Johnston suggests Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle, Dallas Stars right winger Patrick Sharp or Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal.
DUCHENE, LANDESKOG COULD STAY PUT IN COLORADO AFTER DEADLINE
The Colorado Avalanche reportedly continue to entertain offers for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. While the notion of one or both moving before the March 1 trade deadline provides a much-needed spark to the trade-rumor mill, they could still be with the Avalanche when the deadline passes.
It's not as though there isn't any interest in the pair. For several weeks, the 26-year-old Duchene was linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Reports out of Boston earlier this month suggested the Bruins could make a push for the 24-year-old Landeskog. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports there's talk the Senators kicked tires on both players.
As always, the issue is the asking price. It's believed the Avs seek a good young defenseman, a first-round pick and a top prospect for either guy.
In a recent mailbag segment, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty said the Bruins shouldn't give up a promising young blueliner such as Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy for Landeskog. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has no intention of sacrificing his future. His colleague Pierre LeBrun believes the Sens interest in Duchene is pretty much dead unless the asking price is reduced.
LeBrun suggests the Carolina Hurricanes possess considerable depth in young blueliners and need a scoring center. However, he's not convinced Hurricanes GM Ron Francis will pony up for Duchene. LeBrun suggests Francis try to tempt the Toronto Maple Leafs into parting with William Nylander.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic apparently isn't under pressure to move Duchene or Landeskog before the deadline. It's expected he'll wait for the off-season, when general managers usually have more salary-cap room and a willingness to deal.
FLAMES COULD LOOK AT GOALIES AGAIN
Prior to the 2016 NHL draft, the Calgary Flames created a stir when it was reported they contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The discussion apparently ended when the Pens asked for the Flames first-round pick (sixth overall). Calgary used that pick to select left winger Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames eventually acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues, but he's failed to play up to expectations as a starting goaltender. With Chad Johnson also struggling of late, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the Flames could revisit their interest in the 32-year-old Fleury, who's lost his starter's job to rookie Matt Murray.
Earlier this month, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's open to dealing Fleury but prefers retaining him as insurance for the playoffs. Unless Fleury, who carries a modified no-trade clause, asks to be dealt, he could finish the season in Pittsburgh.
The Flames also nearly had a deal in place last June to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can't pry Fleury out of Pittsburgh, maybe they can once again look into the 30-year-old Bishop's trade status.
Bishop's an unrestricted free agent this summer and isn't expected to be re-signed. If the Lightning put Bishop on the block, they could seek a young defenseman in return. It's doubtful, however, the Flames meet that price unless they get assurances that Bishop will re-sign with them.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Marc-Andre Fleury. Image by: Dave Reginek/Getty Images
With parity at its zenith, Vegas looming and a so-so 2017 draft class, figuring what to do at the NHL swap meet has never been harder.
While the trade deadline tends to be one of the biggest TV days of the hockey year, its actual impact has long been exaggerated. Of course it would be glib to point out only one team – the eventual Stanley Cup winner – can really “win” the deadline, but it’s also inaccurate. That’s only true if you’re considering the “buyer” teams. The “seller” teams can also really benefit if their GMs play the field right.
Parity wreaked havoc on the trade market for most of this season, and perhaps with the blockbusters of the summer (Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson), that was to be expected. But with very few teams truly out of the playoff picture and the deadline approaching, GMs have to be cagey this season.
The Buffalo Sabres, for example, were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference as February began, but the rebuilding team is still only a hot streak away from wild-card contention.
“In the calls I make and the ones I take, I inquire about buying and I also listen to what people are asking for,” said GM Tim Murray. “So I’m kind of on both sides of the fence.”
An important reminder for teams that aren’t at the top of the standings is that building a franchise takes many careful steps, and a quick score at the trade deadline must be evaluated against long-term desires.
“Last year, as far as selling, I would have listened to anything reasonable, no question,” Murray said. “I definitely wouldn’t have bought anything that would have gone away from the plan, and I’m not sure I would this year, either. If I’m going to buy someone, I’d obviously like them to be young and someone we’d have around for awhile, but that’s not always easy.”
Figuring out exactly when your team has become a buyer or seller can be tricky, too. Ray Shero had some great deadlines as a buyer in Pittsburgh, but now he’s seeing the other side in New Jersey, as the Devils try to find their footing.
“Last year in New Jersey was the first year I really sold, and we took it all the way to the end with guys like Lee Stempniak,” Shero said. “We played Cory Schneider every game, but we just couldn’t get there. If we were five points in, it might have been different, but at the time it felt like the right thing to do and, in retrospect, it was definitely the right thing to do, so there are a lot of factors in play.”
Shero did end up dealing Stempniak to Boston, getting a fourth-rounder in 2016 (goalie Evan Cormier) and a second-rounder in 2017. The Bruins, incidentally, ended up missing the playoffs.
Another complication this season involves the Vegas expansion draft. Teams are limited in the amount of players they protect, but they must also have a certain threshold of eligible NHL players to expose. That means guys on expiring contracts aren’t as valuable as they would be in previous years.
“If you can get a real good player, you’re going to get that player,” Shero said. “But it’s happened a lot during the season where one player has a contract for next year and if he plays eight more games this season, he’s a guy we can expose, and we didn’t have that before. Teams are constantly evaluating.”
Even those on the waiver wire can be more valuable right now. Part of the reason they have been on waivers in the first place is contract status, but now another franchise may seek them out in order to expose them to the Golden Knights in the summer. On either side of the ledger, GMs and their fellow team execs are keeping constant tabs on their expansion draft situation, including the criteria of whom to expose.
And while the deadline is seen as a time for short-term gains, that’s mostly from the perspective of fans and the players. For execs, it’s all about the long term.
“The trade deadline gets overblown,” Murray said. “Sellers can certainly acquire assets that help you on draft day, and teams that are playoff bound realize it and try to give their team a jolt, but it’s not a blockbuster, long-term solution. Draft day is still the day.”
Which is why it’s interesting to see so many draft picks and prospects tossed around in deals. Unfortunately for buyer GMs, it’s the price of business. The important thing to do is never look back. With draft picks, that’s not as difficult, because every team has a very different list heading into the day. So when Shero acquired Marian Hossa from Atlanta in 2008, the 29th overall pick became Daultan Leveille for Atlanta – but the Pens wouldn’t have necessarily picked the Michigan State commit had they held on to that selection.
“The prospects you kinda know,” Shero said. “With the Jarome Iginla deal, we traded Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski to Calgary and they never really ended up playing, though Kenny is doing great in the minors this year. But they were assets in a deal. Same thing with Angelo Esposito (in the Hossa deal). You don’t hope they go to the Hall of Fame, but you hope they do OK. Hopefully it works for both sides.”
According to one director of scouting, the fact 2017 is seen as a down draft year is already affecting trade deadline preparation. A first-rounder in 2017 isn’t expected to have the same impact as the player chosen in the same range last year, so if your team sells off a roster player to say, Chicago or Pittsburgh at the deadline, that 28th overall pick is probably worth the same as a mid-second-rounder or worse in previous years. This is information GMs request before they seriously hit the phones.
“I still think the draft is the biggest day for us, no question,” Murray said. “You’re building your future. You look back at the history of the draft, and there’s a big difference between teams who kill it and teams who have a bad draft. Those decisions impact you for 20 years.”
Though the NHL’s parity has caused a logjam for deals so far, it only takes one or two moves before a flood is possible. The best GMs will be thinking about their short-term needs without mortgaging their future, and if it all works out, they’ll get a parade at the end of the journey. For everyone else, the gun sights turn to next season.
It’s not the trade most would have expected, but the Kings acquired Ben Bishop on Sunday evening. Now they’ve protected themselves from any potential disaster in goal.
Jonathan Quick made his return to the Los Angeles Kings’ crease on Saturday in grand fashion. Facing off against the rival Anaheim Ducks, Quick turned in a sound performance, stopping 32 shots in his first full game of the campaign and slamming the door shut for the final 40 minutes as the Kings’ offense came to life to lift Los Angeles to a 4-1 victory. It was Quick’s first action since the Oct. 12 groin injury that has cost him almost his entire season, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time with Los Angeles fighting to earn a playoff berth.
No matter how well Quick may have played, though, the Kings aren’t about to let their playoff hopes rest solely on the veteran netminder’s shoulders. Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi made that abundantly clear Sunday evening when he went out and pulled the trigger on a deal few saw coming, acquiring goaltender Ben Bishop, one of the hottest free agents to be, from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The deal also saw the Kings receive a fifth-round pick, while the Lightning landed Peter Budaj, prospect Erik Cernak and a seventh-round pick in return.
At first blush, the deal itself is somewhat puzzling. Goaltending hasn’t exactly been the missing piece in Los Angeles this season, and one would assume that finding some offensive punch would have been the first thing on Lombardi’s to-do list with the deadline approaching. And it’s bizarre that Bishop landed in Los Angeles, of all places, when there are a number of clubs that could have used a goaltender of his calibre now and in the future. But despite how odd the trade may seem, it’s clear that there’s a method to the madness here.
Groin injuries for goaltenders can be a tricky thing, and the Kings learned that first hand this season with Quick. But it’s also something the club was familiar with when a similar injury sidelined Quick during the 2013-14 campaign. That he has suffered two groin injuries in the past four seasons, both of which put him on the shelf for a significant period of time, has to be concerning for Los Angeles down the stretch, especially with the fight the Kings are in to sneak into one of the Western Conference wild-card spots or earn a divisional playoff berth.
At this juncture, the last thing the Kings can afford is losing Quick again, because for as well as Budaj had played, there was no telling when he might come crashing back down to earth. And a pedestrian Budaj and injured Quick would almost assure the Kings weren’t heading to the playoffs. After missing the post-season in 2014-15 and exiting in the first round in 2015-16, the Kings clearly weren’t about to let goaltending fail them when they need it most. This is to say that the acquisition of Bishop is, in effect, an insurance policy, and a 6-foot-7, 216-pound insurance policy at that.
As far as getting goaltending help goes, the Kings could have done much worse than netting themselves Bishop, too. This season hasn’t been nearly as kind to him as the past few and Bishop’s 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage are some of the worst numbers he’s put up since landing in Tampa Bay, but he has proven time and time again that he can get the job done in the post-season. During the 2014-15 playoffs, he was one of the backbones of the Lightning on their run to the Stanley Cup final, and his 1.85 GAA and .939 SP had the Bolts within a win of the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16.
There’s no doubt then that if disaster strikes and Quick goes down, Bishop is more than qualified to take over. And having both goaltenders allows Los Angeles to ride the hot hand, a situation they haven’t really had in any season prior. Quick’s return to the crease was excellent, to be sure, but one game won’t tell the story. There are still 21 contests left on the Kings’ schedule, and if Quick shows any signs of rust, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t even have to hesitate when thinking about a change between the pipes. It’s not a knock against the likes of Budaj, Martin Jones or any of the backups who’ve played behind Quick in recent years, but Bishop’s resume, with an Eastern Conference title and two finishes in the top three of Vezina Trophy voting, speaks for itself.
Sitting three points out of the wild-card and 10 points back of the third spot in the Pacific Division, Los Angeles is doing everything they can to ensure they’re not just in the post-season, but competing with the West’s best. Getting Bishop gives the Kings a safety net down the stretch and the ability to ride a proven playoff performer if Quick happens to stumble at any point. So while it’s not the first major deal we thought we’d see coming from the Kings at the deadline, there’s plenty of reason the trade makes sense. Whether or not it works out, though, is still to be seen.