PWHL

Top draft pick and new coach: PWHL New York GM has a long off-season to-do list

Choosing a new head coach and first-overall draft pick are on Pascal Daoust's priority list this summer.

Pascal Daoust will select 1st overall for New York at the league's draft in June

Hockey players in teal jerseys that say New York on the front celebrate on the ice.
PWHL New York players celebrate after a goal at a game against Minnesota at UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y., in May. The team split home games between arenas in three different states this season. (PWHL)

PWHL New York GM Pascal Daoust has a long to-do list.

After his team finished last in the first season of the six-team league, winning only five of 24 games in regulation, Daoust has a chance to revamp his roster this summer.

That starts with the first-overall draft pick New York earned by virtue of being eliminated from playoff contention first. The team was the only one to earn draft order points, which are accumulated based on performance after a team is eliminated from the postseason.

That pick will be made at league's draft in Minnesota on a yet-to-be-announced date in June. By that point, Daoust hopes to have a new head coach sitting at the draft table.

New York parted ways with Howie Draper after one season, with the league saying both sides "mutually agreed to a coaching change." Draper will return to coaching the women's hockey program at the University of Alberta while serving as a special advisor in New York's scouting department.

"I've been blessed to have been a part of PWHL New York this past season," Draper said in a statement last week. "It was an honour to have worked alongside this outstanding group of staff and athletes. I look forward to the opportunity to remain involved in the continuing growth of the program."

PWHL male head coach of New York walks off the ice after the game against Toronto at Total Mortgage Arena on January 05, 2024 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Toronto defeated New York 3-2.
Howie Draper will remain involved with New York in a special advisory role with the scouting department. (Elsa/Getty Images)

On top of all that, Daoust may not be able to tell potential free agents exactly where New York will be playing next season. The team split its home games between three arenas in three different states this season, and struggled to draw fans.

While talking to reporters earlier this week about that to-do list, Daoust repeatedly talked about consistency — looking for players to show that compete level on the ice over a full 60 minutes, finding a coach who prioritizes that, and in a perfect world, having a consistent home venue next season.

"Have I seen [consistency] the whole season? No," Daoust said about his roster. "So that's something that I'm looking for to evaluate: Who's going to be the best player to represent those values and that consistency, and the best working habits to be the best professional team."

Search for a head coach

Draper returns to a U Sports program where he's had a tremendous amount of success over more than two decades, racking up eight national championships and 665 wins.

Daoust described it as a "win-win" for both Draper and New York to have Draper return to Alberta but remain involved with New York.

When asked why he felt a change needed to be made, Daoust pointed to both New York's performance in the standings but also said he evaluated the season also based on "habits and the vibe that we need to put in place." 

"It's a league where details, consistency have a huge impact because we don't play 82 games to have a window to go around when you have a [string] of losses," Daoust said about what he's looking for in the next head coach. "We need someone with consistency, details, experience, track record, knowing that we're coaching the best in the world."

New York hasn't yet announced whether it will keep Draper's assistant coaches. Daoust indicated he'll listen to feedback from his new head coach.

"Before promising anything to anyone, we need to start the process, to give the opportunity to people that were probably not available to start the [season] at the same time as everybody," Daoust said. "So now we have the right window to meet, to talk, and to receive great candidates."

A hole in net

New York has a number of players on expiring contracts, but the most important one is Corinne Schroeder.

Over 15 games with New York, she finished with the second-best save percentage in the league behind a defence that allowed a lot of shots. Only Toronto's Kristen Campbell and Ottawa's Emerance Maschmeyer faced more shots, and they played seven and eight more games than Schroeder.

A goaltender stares ahead during a game.
Re-signing PWHL New York goalie Corinne Schroeder is one of GM Pascal Daoust's offseason priorities. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

Teams can't sign players to extensions yet, though Daoust indicated conversations have begun with players on expiring contracts.

"She's on our priority [list] because she's done a lot for the team," Daoust said. "She's a great teammate, she's a great goalie."

New York's other two goaltenders, Abbey Levy and Lindsey Post, are also on expiring contracts, leaving a hole in net.

While the team seems set on its blue line for years to come, with defenders Micah Zandee-Hart, Ella Shelton and Jaime Bourbonnais all on three-year contracts, Daoust will need to find more offence from his lineup. Only Boston (50) scored fewer goals than New York's 53 during the regular season.

Off the ice, Daoust said he's looking for his leaders to be role models, "so that they prove to the New York fans, to themselves, to their teammates that they are like a proud player representing New York."

"Those that will be back next year, they definitely need to embrace those values without any doubt," the GM said.

A chance to add a top player

The first-overall pick will give New York a player who can likely contribute right away. 

That could be Sarah Fillier, a generational player and bonafide number one centre who sees the ice well and excels at finding ways to score. She could be New York's second-line centre behind Alex Carpenter, which would give New York a solid one-two punch down the middle.

WATCH | Playing in PWHL would be 'a dream come true' for Fillier:

Going No. 1 in PWHL draft 'would be a dream come true' for Sarah Fillier

3 months ago
Duration 0:55
The 23-year-old forward from Georgetown, Ont., says she's watched almost every game and is excited to join the league next season.

The 23-year-old Princeton University graduate will come into the PWHL next season as a rookie, but she already has lots of big game experience. That includes winning an Olympic gold medal and three-time world champion with Team Canada, including MVP honours at worlds in 2023.

This year's draft is deep, filled with NCAA talent and veteran players from Europe who've decided to declare after watching the first PWHL season from afar. That means Daoust will also get a good player at 7th overall, since the draft order repeats over each of the seven rounds.

"The first-overall pick of each round will have to embrace the values of New York, the compete level that we're looking for," Daoust said.

Off the ice, Daoust said the team is likely to play in fewer venues next season, saving work for staff who had to transport gear between the team's training base in Stamford, Conn. to rinks in Bridgeport, Conn., Elmont, N.Y., and Newark, N.J.

The league is set on having a team in the New York area, given the size of the market. But exactly where remains to be seen.

The team's best turnout this season was more than 5,100 fans at Prudential Center, home to the NHL's New Jersey Devils, on a Saturday in April when the team sat in last place.

But Prudential Centre is at least three and a half hours away from the team's training facility in traffic, far enough that the team had to put players up in hotels the night before home games in New Jersey.

Daoust said the league's business staff is looking at where the team might find the biggest fan base. He also suggested having more games on weekends and in one steady venue could help.

In the meantime, Daoust is focused on the players he'll put on the ice next season.

"On our side, we need to focus on what we control," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. You can reach her at karissa.donkin@cbc.ca.

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