SBD/Issue 239/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NHLPA's 30 Player Reps Vote To Remove Exec Dir Paul Kelly

NHLPA Board Votes Out Kelly 
As Exec Dir In Early-Morning Hours
The NHLPA today announced that its Exec Board voted to fire Exec Dir Paul Kelly during the union's annual meeting in Chicago. The board plans to put together a search committee to identify and interview potential replacements for Kelly. The Exec Board issued a statement that reads, "Following the Executive Board's review of the overall operation of the NHLPA, it was decided that Paul Kelly should no longer continue to serve as Executive Director. We appreciate Mr. Kelly's service to our Association" (NHLPA). TSN's Darren Dreger reports the board met yesterday for "over 10 hours," and "much of that time, Paul Kelly spent waiting with his supporters" -- NHLPA Dir of Player Affairs Glenn Healy and Assistant Dir of Player Affairs Pat Flatley. Kelly was invited into the meeting "three times, the last being just after" 3:30am ET, at which point he was "given news of his demise." Kelly then "bolted from the boardroom visibly upset" and refused to comment. Flatley subsequently resigned his position in support of Kelly. Sources said that there were "moments of heated debate in the meeting, especially early into the discussions when Kelly and Healy passionately argued their case." Dreger notes NHLPA interim Ombudsman Buzz Hargrove was "clearly a key player in this power shift and he was called in and out of the main board discussion on a number of occasions, the first including a presentation detailing some of Kelly's alleged flaws" (TSN.ca, 8/31). The GLOBE & MAIL's Tim Wharnsby reports Hargrove had "compiled a review of Kelly's 22-months at the helm of the NHLPA" and presented the findings yesterday. Hargrove interviewed "each staff member in the NHLPA's Toronto office" during his review, and sources indicated that the employees were "divided on Kelly's proficiency" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 8/31).

BEHIND THE DECISION: The players at last night's meeting were scheduled to hear two reports -- including one from a five-player committee and a human resources consulting firm, which was quietly hired earlier this summer to investigate the internal workings of the union. Although it is not clear exactly what the firm is investigating, sources said that the firm has been interviewing members of the NHLPA staff. Additionally, Kelly was said to be at odds with Hargrove, at least one member of the union’s outside advisory committee, and NHLPA General Counsel Ian Penny. NHL player reps, in a meeting in Las Vegas in June, agreed to give Penny a five-year contract, while at the same time forming the five-player committee to investigate concerns about the office. That report was expected to be delivered to player reps yesterday. While the players heard the presentation from Hargrove, the report from the human resources firm and the five-player committee could have been more crucial in determining Kelly's future, sources said. Sources asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about union business. Sources declined to reveal the identity of the firm that had been hired or the five players on the committee. Players kept the investigation under wraps because even the appearance of union unrest could be harmful to its strength in negotiating a new CBA.

GROWING UNREST: Players are very unhappy with the current CBA in which the NHL kept 18% of their salaries in an escrow account. That agreement expires in September '11, although players have the option to extend it another year. The labor deal was negotiated not by Kelly, but by Ted Saskin, the former NHLPA Exec Dir who was fired by players in '07 after an investigation found that he secretly read the e-mails of players who were critical of him and his policies. Although players are unhappy with that deal, sources said internal union problems were the main problem facing Kelly, not the labor deal. News of internal union unrest under Kelly's regime first surfaced late last year, when SportsBusiness Journal reported that Kelly and former NHL player and NHLPA Ombudsman Eric Lindros were at odds. Lindros resigned this year and cited many problems at the union in a letter highly critical of Kelly's leadership. While some Kelly supporters have dismissed Lindros as a malcontent, others say the fact problems are continuing at the union shows that Lindros may have been right. Although Kelly has detractors, he has supporters as well and there were rumblings of a fight between the two factions this past weekend (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

MAKING A MISTAKE? In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote it is "not very difficult to detect the ham-fisted touch of Eric Lindros in all of this." Sources indicated that Lindros "still has regular contact and influence with a cabal" that includes Penny, Hargrove and NHLPA Advisory Board Chair Ron Pink, and it could have swayed "enough votes among the executive board ... for Kelly to be railroaded." Dupont before this morning's decision wrote removing Kelly would be "one giant, potentially fatal, step backward" for the union. Dupont: "One only wonders how soon the next strike or lockout will be" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/30). SI.com's Allan Muir reported Hargrove's report was believed to concern Kelly's "handling of the inflator and escrow provisions of the CBA." Given that some player agents have said this year's escrow could be up to 20%, "that's the topic most likely to have inflamed the membership." But Muir noted there is "also a bigger issue in play: the very nature of the union itself." The NHLPA during Kelly's 22-month tenure had "recovered from acrimony and in fighting that plagued it during the lockout and in the wake of the imposition of the salary cap." Under Kelly's "personable and savvy leadership," the players "found their rudder and become a positive, progressive force for the betterment of the game" (SI.com, 8/28).

STOP THE MADNESS: In Toronto, Steve Simmons wrote the players are "foolish to find fault with Kelly," who appeared to be the "perfect choice to have succeeded the autocrats and criminals who came before him." There was "more structure" in the union under Kelly, and "more purpose" as well. Simmons: "There are enlightened views that come closer to giving this previously soulless operation something a hockey fan can actually believe in" (TORONTO SUN, 8/29). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt wrote, "How is the players' voice going to be heard ... if they can't stop fighting among themselves?" There is "nothing wrong with democracy," and a "little more dissent at key points in its history would have changed the NHLPA for the better." But it is "impossible to function in a state of uncertainty, anger and turmoil, perpetually falling back on old grudges and restaging old battles" (GLOBE & MAIL, 8/29).

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