SBD/Issue 36/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NHLPA Meeting Called After Ouellet Tabbed As Temporary Exec Dir

 
The NHLPA Exec Board called an emergency meeting last night in the wake of the resignations of interim Exec Dir and longtime counsel Ian Penny and the appointment of union counsel Mike Ouellet as temporary Exec Dir, sources said. It was not clear late last night if the NHLPA had enough reps on the emergency call to pass any resolution, but sources said the meeting was called by five player reps concerned about whether the four-member NHL veteran player review committee had the authority to name Ouellet as temporary Exec Dir and union lawyer Roland Lee as temporary general counsel. One source said the call ended after a few hours with no resolution. Penny resigned on Friday, followed by a number of members of the NHLPA’s Advisory Board. At least three of those advisory board members -- Ron Pink, Steve Larmer and Ken Baumgartner -- sent blistering resignation letters, questioning the actions of the review committee led by AHL Chicago Wolves D Chris Chelios. The four-member committee of Chelios, Sharks D Rob Blake, Red Wings D Nicklas Lidstrom and Bruins RW Mark Recchi was appointed by a 25-5 vote of player reps to review operations of the NHLPA, as well as the firing of former Exec Dir Paul Kelly on August 31. The committee sent out a memo late Friday asking Ouellet “to temporarily assume the functions of Interim Exec Dir” and for Lee to “temporarily assume the functions” of General Counsel. Both appointments were pending the next Executive Board meeting, which was set for November 9, sources said. But the appointments, as well as the resignation letters of Larmer, Pink and Baumgartner, galvanized player reps to call Sunday night’s emergency board meeting. Some are questioning whether the temporary appointments violated the union’s constitution. The review committee responded with a letter yesterday, explaining its decision. “Ian Penny put our Association in a very difficult position when he abruptly resigned,” the review committee wrote in the letter to the Exec Board. “His departure presented us with our first challenge as we begin our review of operations. As a result of numerous calls from the PA staff seeking advice on what to do next, and knowing it was impossible to convene an Executive Board call on a couple hours notice, we asked the two most senior members of our staff, Mike Ouellet and Roland Lee, to temporarily manage the business and labor departments until an Executive Board call could be arranged. Contrary to anything that has been suggested, neither Mike nor Roland have been appointed to interim roles.”

HOSTILE TAKEOVER? Penny, who has worked at the union since '00 and was appointed as interim Exec Dir after Kelly was fired, resigned Friday morning. A week prior to his resignation, Penny wrote a letter expressing concerns that the investigation being conducted by the four-member committee included surveillance of staff, intimidation of staff and the potential of leaking confidential information concerning staff and NHL players. Last week, the four-member review committee sent a letter to staff, agents and NHLPA members placing restrictions on staff, the interim ombudsman and the advisory board, including asking advisory board members “to avoid any contact with association staff or with individual executive board members.” Several advisory board members resigned on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, citing those restrictions, among other things, as reasons for their resignations. “Much has been said by some Executive Board members, their Agents, and selected players (most of them have never shown interest in the PA in the past),” Pink, a former Advisory Board Chair, wrote in his resignation letter. “The individuals (who) have assumed control of the PA and are dictating actions likely contrary to the Constitution and have, in my view, subjected the PA to potential legal liability.” Larmer, a former NHLPA Dir of Player Relations, wrote, “Certain players with the assistance of their agents have in a sense hijacked the union. They have used the cover of an operations review to paralyze the NHLPA staff and placed certain employees under surveillance. It is my understanding that the former Executive Director, Paul Kelly, has communicated with Chris Chelios and Shawn Horcoff and others directing them to investigate the affairs of the PA.” Attempts to reach Chelios, Horcoff and Kelly for comment on Larmer’s letter were unsuccessful. Baumgartner in his resignation letter wrote, “I have grave concerns around the direction that the Review Committee is taking you. Those who loudly proclaim to protect the Constitution appear to have ignored it” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch reported NHLPA Advisory Board members Dan O'Neill and Ron Lloyd also stepped down (OTTAWA SUN, 10/31). In addition, Advisory Board member Ian Troop resigned (CBC.ca, 10/31).

PLAYING DEFENSE: The four-player review committee yesterday responded to rumors that the union had ceased operations and the committee was now running the union. “We are disappointed by the suggestions made by Steve Larmer and others that the NHLPA has suspended operations, as he and others told the press on Friday, or that our Review Committee has hijacked the union somehow, that we had employees under surveillance and suspended the offices of Ombudsman, Divisional Player Representatives and Advisory Board,” the Review group said in its letter Sunday. “We did not do any of that” (Mullen).

Penny Resigned
From NHLPA Friday
PAYMENT PLAN: Penny, in resigning, told the union that he has been constructively dismissed and “can no longer work under the present circumstances,” the union confirmed in a statement Friday (Mullen). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont noted the wording of Penny’s statement “is significant,” as it is likely that Penny, by “claiming he was constructively dismissed, will look to be compensated for the remainder of his contract.” He “was not fired, although he ran that risk, pending a review of the union’s operations that will begin soon” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/31). TSN’s Darren Dreger wrote the wording of Penny's statement indicates he “intends to fight for the remainder of a very lucrative 5-year contract that sources say starts at $650,000 per year” (TSN.ca, 10/30). Meanwhile, the CBC's Scott Morrison said Saturday was “supposed to be the deadline for Paul Kelly’s settlement with the union,” but the settlement “is going to be delayed because Kelly’s lawyers were negotiating with Paul Cavalluzzo, the outside counsel for the PA who resigned this week” ("HNIC, CBC, 10/31). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Duhatschek, Maki & Shoalts noted what “remains unclear is what will happen to” NHLPA acting Ombudsman Buzz Hargrove. By “staying on, Hargrove will be questioned” about the events that led to Kelly’s ouster (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/31). 

PLAYERS WANT ANSWERS: The OTTAWA SUN's Garrioch cited sources as saying that players are “furious and ‘demanding answers’” after the rash of resignations (OTTAWA SUN, 10/31). The CBC’s Glenn Healy said, “The players want answers. Coming out of the mess in Chicago (where Kelly was dismissed), I think they want answers to questions. Looking back on it, I think Ian Penny probably had some regrets about the way this whole thing went down. I think he looks at that train he got on with some of his advisors and says, ‘It got out of control. I couldn’t stop it.’” Healy: “It’s very curious that the investigation goes forward, and four days later there’re a lot of resignations." The CBC’s Mike Milbury: “They just jumped ship very, very quickly. But now that they have, it’s almost completely cleaned up." Healy said, “The purge is not yet done, I don’t think. And the constitution in my mind needs to be better. It has to be better for it to work" ("HNIC," CBC, 10/31). 

The CBC's Healy Says The NHLPA Review 
Committee Is Working On Behalf Of Players
FOUR SCORE? The BOSTON GLOBE's Dupont wrote that the 30 player reps are in “charge of charting the fortunes and destiny of the 750 or so rank-and-file members” is “frightening,” as many of those same players voted to remove Kelly as Exec Dir (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/1). However, Healy said, “Don’t question the four guys. They’ve got great credentials … and they are acting on behalf of a vote of 25-5 to go get us some answers.” The CBC's Ron MacLean said, “They were advised to review this. They’re not on the search committee to find a new executive director, they’re not on any of the other committees. It just seemed like suddenly these four guys -- what do they know about running the union? They’re veteran players who made all their money in the no-cap system” ("HNIC," CBC, 10/31).

RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS: ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside wrote under the header, “It’s Official: Union Hits Rock Bottom.” The union is a “rudderless ship,” and the rash of resignations raises the question, “Who’s in charge?” A source said, “The answer is nobody.” An agent added, “It’s a farce.” Burnside noted there “seem to be two clear options for the players.” First, they can “begin to pick up the pieces of their torn association and begin the search for both a new executive director and new general counsel.” The second option is “bringing back Kelly”(ESPN.com, 10/30). An agent said of the union, “It’s unraveling. These wounds are not going to heal in an instant. The guys need to get it together” (TORONTO STAR, 11/1). Kings D and player rep Matt Greene said, “There’s a lot of problems in the office right now. I think the players themselves are becoming more aware of what’s going on and taking a lot bigger interest in what’s going on than the guys have before. Hopefully, it’s just the start of a growing process for us and we become a stronger union.” Greene added, “We’re not rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic here. We know where we’re going. We've got a good hull. We should stay afloat” (L.A. TIMES, 11/2).

IN NEED OF A FRESH START: In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote only with a “clean slate, can the union start to rebuild.” The “next step will have to be a tweaking of the union’s constitution, which is filled with so many checks and balances that it was inevitable that power struggles would result” (THESTAR.com, 10/30). Milbury said of the union, "They’ve got to continue … to clean house and get a fresh start, they need to look at the constitution and start from scratch before the new guy comes in.” Milbury added the player reps “don’t have time to bring in a guy who’s not hockey-savvy.” Milbury: “He’s got to know some of the personalities, he’s got to know some of the history. If he rides shotgun with a heavy-duty labor lawyer, I’ve got no problem with that. But there’s got to be a one-two punch here because I don’t think there’s anybody out there who’s a hockey guy and also a labor lawyer” (“HNIC,” CBC, 10/31). NHL player agent Allan Walsh said a “strong PA will most likely guard against another lookout. Right now, what’s going on is disheartening for many reasons” (OTTAWA SUN, 11/1). LeBrun said because of the uncertainties around the union, there is “almost no question that the NHLPA will pick up that seventh year, the option year, that they have on the CBA. They have to, they have no time” ("HNIC," CBC, 10/31).

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