NHL partnership a step in the right direction for the NWHL

NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan says a stamp of approval from the New Jersey Devils is game-changing and is hopefully a springboard for other NHL partnerships. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For the first time, the NHL is giving a real assist to women's hockey.

On Thursday it was announced that the NWHL's New York Riveters would rebrand and partner with the New Jersey Devils. It's the first time an NHL franchise has directly supported a women's pro hockey team, and it might be a sign of things to come.

"We have been in talks with the Devils for a while," NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan said. "The Isobel Cup two years ago was at the Barnabas Health Hockey House, and right after that we relocated the Riveters from Brooklyn to Newark. We kept talking about how we could work more together, and then the talks got more formal."

With player salaries being cut in half last season, having support from a team with backing like the Devils also allows the NWHL to breathe a bit.

The deal with the Devils is for three seasons. The plan is for the Devils to share resources such as marketing, facilities (rent-free), events, sales and game presentation. The Riveters will also adopt the Devils' colors, changing their scheme from blue and red to red, white and black.

"Everyone is really excited," Rylan said. "There's proof of product now with our league. We've been building a fan base for the past two seasons. To get a stamp of approval from an NHL club is game-changing. Hopefully that's a springboard for most teams."

The Riveters will change their name to the Metropolitan Riveters and play their first home game of the season at the Prudential Center in a doubleheader on Oct. 28. The Riveters will host the Boston Pride in the afternoon and the Devils will play the Arizona Coyotes at night.

"A big part of this is plugging into the Devils' marketing," Rylan said. "They're marketing the opener like a Devils game. We're hoping that's a significant impact because we are relying on the Devils with that."

NHL facilities have been used in the past, with the Pride playing out of the Boston Bruins' practice facility and the league All-Star Game taking place in Pittsburgh last season. That temporary promotion from the Penguins opened some eyes as to what a partnership may do.

"We've continued talking with the Penguins," Rylan said. "We have one regular-season game in Pittsburgh again in January."

The reaction throughout the NWHL has been positive.

"The Devils have been super supportive of the Riveters and everything we've done," Riveters captain Ashley Johnston said in a news release. "Playing in that facility at Barnabas has been great. It's a first-class facility. We've been treated well and that's a great thing. I can't speak enough to how helpful they've already been.

"This partnership is really fundamentally rooted in the correct vision of wanting to spread the word about women's hockey. To have the Devils be committed with that [is great]."

The game being played in the bigger arena should also be telling as to how this partnership can benefit the league, and how well women's hockey can do with a little bit of exposure.

"The brand is growing consistently, and the Devils noticed that," Rylan said. "They approached us. I expect this partnership will allow us to generate revenue but also get exposure and [for] that to go hand in hand.

"There are things we don't know yet about how it will be a true impact. It's the first time [merchandise] will be sold storefront all year [long], and that's a big impact right away. We've also never been in an arena like that, so ticket sales from that one game alone could be huge."

The immediate next question is how much further the partnership goes with the rest of the league. Two other teams -- Buffalo and Boston -- are in NHL markets, and Rylan says a lot of the talks with the NHL also involve potential expansion markets.

"We think this announcement will be a catalyst for more deals with NHL teams," Rylan said. "As far as a league deal, the NHL has always supported women's hockey, and I expect they'll continue to support us."