On January 25th, 2019, the Colorado Avalanche realized that they would need a replacement for Nathan MacKinnon in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition since he was forced to pull out due to injury. MacKinnon was slated to participate in the “fastest skater” segment against the likes of Jack Eichel and Mat Barzal. Using a tweet, they called on Kendall Coyne Schofield. A member of the United States women’s hockey team, she has five IIHF gold medals and one Olympic gold medal (from 2018) under her belt. So when the Avalanche, asked for her help, she got on the first flight over.

Fresh off of that flight, Schofield, without warming up, completed the drill in 14.226 seconds. At the actual competition, her time was 14.346 seconds, flying around the rink as the crowd chanted “USA!” She finished seventh out of eight players, beating just Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes. She wasn’t that far behind the NHL’s biggest superstars, though; Schofield finished just over one second behind the event’s winner, Connor McDavid.

A few other women’s hockey players “demonstrated” the events this past Friday. Rebecca Johnston, another member of Team USA, did a test run of the puck control exercise, and Team Canada’s Renata Fast, joined by Schofield, tried out the accuracy shooting drill. Later that night, and the following day, one of the women who participated in the skills competition began to cause a lot of controversy in the hockey world. Brianna Decker, a former member of the NWHL’s Boston Pride and current member of the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno, tried her hand at the “premier passing” event on Friday night. The standings for this event were as follows:  

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers; 1 minute, 9.088 seconds
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes; 1 minute, 18.530 seconds
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues; 1 minute, 25.897 seconds
Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers; 1 minute, 34.611 seconds
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators; 1 minute, 40.568 seconds
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators; 1 minute, 47.128 seconds
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks; 1 minute, 58.824 seconds
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche; 2 minutes, 17.379 seconds

However, Decker completed the activity faster than any of the NHL players. She clocked in at one minute and six seconds, just over three seconds quicker than the winner named by the league, Draisaitl. In the past, players who won these individual events at the skills competition were rewarded with an extra check, usually at about 25,000 dollars. Fans on Twitter are now campaigning for Decker to be given the prize money that they believe is rightfully hers, using the hashtag “#PayDecker“.

Now, why is this so important? After all, so many fans are ready to abolish the all-star weekend as a whole, calling it pointless and a waste. Why would they be spending so much time to try to get someone to win prize money from a weekend so trivial? It all comes down to the gap between men’s and women’s hockey.

In 2017, it was announced that the CWHL would begin paying their players anywhere from two-thousand to 10 thousand dollars in salary per year. Since Decker is new to the league, but still very talented, she most likely falls in the middle of the pack, at about six-thousand dollars per year. This is over 20,000 dollars less than the prize money that Draisaitl is getting, for an event that he truly lost to Decker. According to CapFriendly, Leon Draisaitl will be earning 8.5 million dollars yearly until the 2024-2025 season. That’s a total of 68 million dollars by the time his current contract is up. 25,000 dollars is pocket change to someone like Draisaitl or even the majority of players in the NHL.

The current minimum salary in the league is $575,000 dollars, a huge jump from the $10,000 that the best of the best in the CWHL earn. $25,000 would be huge for Brianna Decker. Of course, there’s no way to tell what she would do with it, but, knowing her, it would most likely be at least partially used to continue to “grow the game” and further women’s hockey. Furthermore, besides the idea of money, Decker rightfully won the event. She, along with the other women there Friday night, showed a world of hockey fans that they could do just as well as their male counterparts.

On Saturday afternoon, hockey equipment company CCM decided to #PayDecker and give Brianna the 25,000 dollars that she deserves for winning her event at the skills competition. However, this is so much bigger than one player and one night, and it is definitely bigger than money. When all of the drama of this weekend is stripped away, what’s left is, at its core, an issue of sexism in the world of sports.

The idea of directly comparing male and female athletes has existed for as long as we can remember, but it has only gotten worse as the years have gone on. Nothing productive comes out of stacking female athletes up against male athletes. When it comes down to it, women and men are just physically different. For example, it’s hard to say that Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel could beat Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in a game. Hockey programs for boys are definitely more advanced and have more money invested in them than that of girls, so they get an advantage there. Plus, men are simply physically bigger and built differently than women. Comparing female hockey players to male hockey players is only doing a disservice to the former.

Women who play professional hockey today are some of the strongest, most talented athletes in the world. So why should it matter if they can beat men in skills competitions, even if they do, indeed, beat men in skills competitions sometimes? Using the NHL as a way to invalidate the skills of female hockey players, saying they’re “boring” or “not as good” as their male counterparts, is beyond unfair to them. These women work so hard to live their dreams and play professional hockey, even if it means they have to work second (or third) jobs to make ends meet or commute insane hours every week in order to do it. Just because their skill sets are different from that of men who play hockey, doesn’t mean that women who play hockey shouldn’t be respected and admired equally.

Did you watch the NHL All-Star Skills Competition or plan on watching the All-Star Game? What did you think of the involvement of more professional women’s hockey players this year? Let us know by tweeting us @PuckItUpBlog!

Impressed by the likes of Decker, Schofield, Johnston, and Fast and want to learn more about women’s hockey? Click here for our beginner’s guide to the NWHL, CWHL, and beyond.

Twitter: @nhljennifer

Tumblr: @jdmwriting

One thought on “The NHL Skills Competition, #PayDecker, and More: The Divide Between Men’s and Women’s Hockey

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