Women's ice hockey in North America has long been divided between multiple organizations. Over the years, the organizations have changed, but the division continues. It has recently been between the Premier Hockey Federation and the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association.

The PHF was recently sold to a group led by Mark Walter. Or at least what the Associated Press called "certain assets" of the league. Walter is a familiar figure to many sports fans. He is probably best known as co-owner and chairman of Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.

Walter also co-owns the Women's National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Sparks and the English Premier League's Chelsea F.C. His team had also been heavily involved with the PWHPA. And that means some big changes are probably on the way.

A new, combined league expected to begin play in 2024

ESPN reports that the PHF and PWHPA are expected to merge. If so, the unified league is believed to be ready for play by early 2024. PWHPA and PHF players were informed of the pending merger at meetings on June 29th.

Some key elements are apparently still being hashed out. Perhaps most importantly, how many teams will be in the league and what teams are they? A name for the new league has also not been officially decided upon.

Leaders from both sides are reportedly staying on in prominent roles. The current PHF commissioner is Reagan Carey. Carey was formerly the general manager and director of Team USA women's hockey. She also previously worked in the front office of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Jayna Hefford chairs the PWHPA.

Hefford is a past commissioner and player in the now-defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League. She also helped Team Canada win four Olympic gold medals and seven world championships.

The PHF has competed under a traditional format. Teams alternate between hosting games and travelling to play at their opponents' venues. Teams of the PWHPA do not have home venues, although they do have training hubs.

Instead, all teams travel on tour from place to place, holding games in various locations. Men's hockey in the 3ICE league uses a somewhat similar format.

Differences have largely centered on labor policies

The question of unionization has been a particular sticking point in professional women's ice hockey. Players in the Premier Hockey Federation have not been unionized. Reports indicate that player contracts will likely be voided if the merge goes through.

The Professional Women's Hockey Players Association is, conversely, essentially a union itself. Though it holds organized competitions and championships, it's not technically actually a league. Rather, it's a nonprofit supporting a platform of increased financial resources and other benefits for women in the sport.

It was, however, due to a vote to ratify a labor agreement in a matter of days. It likely would've led to the launch of a formal league. It remains to be seen if the vote still happens or how it might impact the possible merge.