SBD/Issue 34/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NHLPA Review Committee Looking To Hire Advisors, Legal Counsel

The committee of four veteran NHL players reviewing NHLPA operations will seek to hire independent business advisors as well as independent legal counsel, including an attorney to respond immediately to a letter sent to the union's Exec Board by interim Exec Dir Ian Penny, the four players wrote in a letter to the board this week. Penny, who replaced former Exec Dir Paul Kelly after he was fired in late August, sent a letter to the Exec Board on October 23 questioning the conduct of committee member and AHL Chicago Wolves D Chris Chelios. Among other things, Penny questioned whether Chelios had pre-judged the matter, since he told Penny he would not survive the review. Penny also wrote that he had been constructively fired. The October 27 letter to the executive committee by the four-player group of Chelios, Sharks D Rob Blake, Red Wings D Nicklas Lidstrom and Bruins RW Mark Recchi, stated, “Since Ian’s email could create legal ramifications for the Association, we think it is appropriate to seek ‘independent’ legal advice on this matter immediately.” Those four players were put in place to review Kelly’s firing by a 25-5 vote of player reps earlier this month. The memo also states that members of the NHLPA’s advisory board and the Ombudsman have been instructed “to avoid any contact with association staff or with individual executive board members.” It also states that NHLPA divisional field representatives “have been asked not to incur any travel expenses until this review is complete.” The job of the field reps at the NHLPA, as well as at other sports unions, is to communicate with and keep the rank and file members informed on union business.

FOUR WARNED? Kelly was at odds with Penny, current acting Ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, members of the advisory board and some of the NHLPA field reps before he was fired. The October 27 letter was sent to the 30 executive committee members, but was copied to all NHL players, agents, and NHLPA staff. A growing number of players are concerned about the four-member group, said sources who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the committee. Noting how the formation of the review committee was spurred by concern that Kelly was the victim of a coup, one source said, “Talking about complaining about a coup, this is now a blatant coup where (the four player committee) has taken control of the association. They have been authorized to conduct a review of how Kelly was fired and their memo to the executive board and copied to the world is a blueprint of how they intend to run the association going forward.” Meanwhile, there was no mention in the memo of a search for a new Exec Dir, and there is growing speculation that Kelly may be brought back -- something that was unthinkable when he was fired by a vote of 22-5 on August 31. Other hockey sources questioned whether any of the four players who signed the memo wrote it. The memo states, “We want to advise you that we have and will continue to consult with our own agents, other agents, our own legal counsel and several of our business contacts” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

READY & WILLING:'s Lester Munson noted the players are "looking for someone outside the players' association who can sort things out and help them reset their union." Former NFLPA Exec Dir Ed Garvey, who in '89 crafted a report that "led to criminal charges" against former NHLPA Exec Dir Alan Eagleson, is "available again to step into the current fray." Garvey: "I would like to be considered. I know something about the way a player union can and should work and what it should be accomplishing for the players." Munson wrote Garvey has "charm, charisma and the capacity to explain difficult matters in ways that players can quickly comprehend." Munson: "If the players really want to solve their problems, Garvey can help" (, 10/28).

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