Female players to sit out in bid for viable hockey leagueFILE - In this March 4, 2018, file photo, Hilary Knight, of the gold medal winning U.S. women's Olympic hockey team, attends a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match between the United States and France, in Harrison, N.J. More than 200 of the top female hockey players in the world have decided they will not play professionally in North America next season, hoping their stand leads to a single economically sustainable league. The announcement Thursday, May 2, 2019, comes after the Canadian Women's Hockey League abruptly shut down as of Wednesday, leaving the five-team, U.S.-based National Women's Hockey League as the only pro league in North America. The group of players, led by American stars Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield and Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados, hopes their move eventually pushes the NHL to start its own women's hockey league as the NBA did with the WNBA. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)
The Latest on women's hockey players announcing boycott in demand for one league (all times Eastern):
The National Women's Hockey League is moving ahead with plans to open its fifth season with or without more than 200 players who have pledged to not compete in North America next season.
The NWHL released a statement saying it ''respects the wishes of all players to consider their options,'' and remains open to meeting with them to address concerns.
The five-team U.S. league then announced it has already established plans to begin next season, including increased salaries and offering a 50-50 split of revenues coming from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.
One reason several players, including U.S. star Hilary Knight, left the NWHL was the league's decision to cut salaries in half a little over a month into its second year of existence.
The statement, however, does make any mention of the NWHL's previously announced plans to expand into Toronto and Montreal.
The league only noted that it reached out to players to work on establishing one pro league in North America after the Canadian Women's Hockey League announced it was ceasing operations a little over a month ago.
Without going into detail, the NWHL also noted it has raised ''significant investments.''
Tennis great Billie Jean King is supporting the more than 200 women's hockey players who say they will not play in North America next season in their push for a single viable professional league.
King retweeted a statement from Hilary Knight and wrote on Twitter that female athletes deserve to live the life they envisioned as children playing the sport they love and make a living doing it. King wrote that she stands with all women athletes pursuing equal pay and a sustainable future.
The Women's Sports Foundation shared Meghan Duggan's statement on Twitter and noted the foundation stands with all female athletes advocating for equitable pay, fair treatment and the right to play their support in a supportive, sustainable and safe environment.
Bauer Hockey is supporting the world's top female hockey players as they boycott professional hockey in North America next season in their push to establish one league.
Mary-Kay Messier is president of global marketing for the hockey equipment giant and the sister of NHL Hall of Famer Mark Messier. She says she believes the NHL must play a key role to develop a viable women's professional hockey program.
Messier says the NHL and its clubs have the ability to effectively promote the women's game with the resources beyond money. She says the NHL also can use the world's top female athletes as ambassadors and role models, which will both grow the game and build diversity in hockey.
Bauer has endorsement deals with Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight, who are among the women who decided not to play.
Messier, who also is a board member of the nonprofit Play Like a Girl group, says the offseason provides the hockey community a chance to come together to support women's professional hockey.
The NHL will begin privately evaluating its stance on whether to back a women's professional hockey league.
The move comes after more than 200 players said they will not play in North America next season. Bill Daly, the league's deputy commissioner, says it is premature to weigh in at this point.
But he also added: ''We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps.''
Daly noted that the National Women's Hockey League remains in existence, and the NHL has no intention of interfering with its business plan or objectives.
Still, Daly's reference to a private evaluation marks a step forward for a league that has previously stated it had no intention of considering backing a competing professional women's league.
Daly did not provide a timetable for how long the evaluation might take. He adds he doesn't anticipate ''at this early stage'' to have women's pro hockey placed on the agenda for the league's next board of governors meetings next month.
U.S. star Kendall Coyne Schofield tells The Associated Press that the National Women's Hockey League has repeatedly shown it is not a viable, long-term option for players.
Coyne Schofield and more than 200 other players have announced they would not play in any North American professional league next season in an effort to establish one league. It came a day after the Canadian Women's Hockey League officially ceased operations following its stunning March announcement that it was folding.
Coyne Schofield says the NWHL ''does not showcase the best product of women's hockey.'' She says the business model, salaries, health insurance and the treatment of the players are all factors.
Players in a statement said salaries as low as $2,000 and a lack of health insurance make it difficult to train and play.
Unhappy with the status quo, more than 200 of the world's top female hockey players declared they will not compete in North America next season in a dramatic attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league.
The players announced their decision in a joint statement released to The Associated Press before being posted on social media in a move that has the potential of drawing the NHL further into the conversation of backing women's hockey. The group includes stars such as Americans Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield and Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados.
The players pulled together in a united front in less than a month and said they wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of the sport while demanding a say in establishing a league.
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