Natalie Darwitz had a front-row seat to watch Sophie Jaques’ talent with the puck over the last two seasons.
Darwitz, who was an associate head coach at the University of Minnesota before becoming PWHL Minnesota’s GM this season, saw Jaques put up 48 points in 41 games with rival Ohio State last season.
The performance earned Jaques the Patty Kazmaier award, given annually to the best female player in the NCAA. She was only the second defender to win the award after Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero did it in 2004.
“Every time she was on the ice, she was just a dominant threat,” Darwitz told CBC Sports. “There were times where, in disbelief, I’d be like, how did she even make that play or get open or how did she do it again? We know the ceiling is really high for her.”
Darwitz made history on Sunday, playing a role in what will go down as the PWHL’s first trade, along with Boston GM Danielle Marmer. And it was a big one.
Jaques, who was drafted 10th overall by Boston in September, was traded to Minnesota. In return, Boston got Finnish forward Susanna Tapani, who put up five points in Minnesota’s first nine games, and depth defender Abby Cook.
It comes as general managers across the league navigate roster management in the league’s first season, all while complying with rules outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.
For players, it’s the first time many have ever had to contemplate the prospect of getting traded.
“From our standpoint, this isn’t just playing a board game and making a quick decision,” Darwitz said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. For us, it’s not only are we obviously looking at this year but my job as the GM is what’s next year, what’s the following year look like.”
‘A win-win for both organizations’
Trades have only been allowed since the beginning of the season in the PWHL, meaning GMs couldn’t swap players during training camp or while finalizing initial 23-player rosters.
With a trade deadline looming at the end of the day on March 17, and play paused over the last week for international play, Darwitz spent time evaluating her team’s first third of the season. After nine games, Minnesota sits two points behind Montreal at the top of the PWHL standings.
Darwitz and her fellow GMs have been planting seeds on future deals. Early last week, she and Marmer started talking about their rosters and their needs, where their teams are heading and where they might be looking to make some changes.
They both threw out names that were off the table, and then started talking about what could work for both of them.
“It probably navigated into five, six different options,” Darwitz said. “At the end of the day, we obviously agreed on this option and thought it was a win-win for both our organizations.”
The trade was announced on Sunday night, just as the Super Bowl was kicking off, and shortly after Team Canada finished a reverse sweep of Team USA in the Rivalry Series.
Players have 48 hours to report to new team
For players, a trade kicks off a frenzied two days.
The collective bargaining agreement gives a player 48 hours to report to their new team during the league season. Players are then allowed two consecutive days off to “organize their affairs.” Teams are also required to cover relocation expenses for players, including costs associated with breaking a lease.
Both Boston and Minnesota return to play on Wednesday evening, with Boston hosting Toronto and Minnesota at home against Ottawa.
For GMs, making a trade requires a good fit on both sides. Draft picks can’t be traded until at least the completion of this season, so teams can only trade players each way, all while making sure they comply with the league’s 23-player maximum roster size.
How it impacts the salary cap
Understanding how a trade impacts a team’s salary cap is a bit challenging because financial terms of individual players’ contracts haven’t been released.
Teams are required to pay players an average of $55,000 US per season, a figure that will increase by three per cent each season, according to the collective bargaining agreement. That can vary from the average by as much as 10 per cent “due to player movement and new signings.”
Even though the exact terms of Jaques’ contract aren’t public, it’s clear adding her would have a financial impact over the next couple of seasons.
She was one of six players on Boston signed to a three-year contract. The collective bargaining agreement requires each team to sign at least six players on three-year contracts worth at least $80,000 per year. The trade leaves Boston with only five three-year deals and Minnesota with seven.
“Some of the trades that were initially thrown out, it didn’t make sense for either of our salary caps for future years,” Darwitz said. “So we have to kind of then pivot and do something different.”
Boston gets defensive depth, scoring
The trade gives Boston an additional offensive weapon in Tapani, who has a quick release.
“She is someone that can make or break a game,” former Minnesota teammate Taylor Heise said before the season began.
Most recently, Tapani has been centering Minnesota’s third line. The fifth-round draft pick’s acquisition gives Boston coach Courtney Kessel someone who can add a bit more offense to Boston’s bottom six. Boston already has several players comfortable with playing down the middle, including top point-getter Alina Müller, Hannah Brandt and Shiann Darkangelo.
Tapani also put up 10 points on the women’s Euro Hockey Tour over the international break, propelling her Finnish team to the top of the tour standings over teams like Czechia and Sweden.
Cook, who has been playing on Boston’s third defensive pairing, earned a contract with Minnesota after being invited to training camp. She’s familiar with Boston, having played four seasons at Boston University.
With one player going out and two coming in, Boston will have to make another roster move ahead of Wednesday’s game.
Jaques has yet to register a point in seven games with Boston. She’s played up and down Boston’s lineup and hadn’t seemed to click quite yet, but she’s only one month into her professional career.
She adds a more offensive look to Minnesota’s blue line. Lee Stecklein leads Minnesota defenders in points with six in nine games, but the offense drops off after that.
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“I just feel that she’s got tremendous upside,” Darwitz said about Jaques.
“Is there a figuring out process of going from the collegiate level to the pro level and the pace of play? Absolutely. I believe that, again, just coming out of college, she has a bright future and can be an impact player on this team.”
The trade also reunites Jaques with two former Ohio State teammates in Liz Schepers and Clair DeGeorge, which may add some familiarity in her first year as a pro.
“Hopefully we can give her the same belief and confidence that the Ohio State staff gave in her to perform at her best, and to go out there and do her thing and play free and have some fun,” Darwitz said.