NHLPA's Ouster of Kelly Still Somewhat a Mystery


Written on 9/01/2009 by Jim Cerny

Many hockey writers and columnists, including Rick Sadowski, here on World Sports Blogs' Through the 5-Hole, have done an excellent job covering the ouster of NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly on Monday, as well as analyzing its ramifications down the road, the most important of which will be negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league in either two or three years. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wrote a great piece detailing why Kelly's departure from the league is so important to fans of the sport, as well.

But instead of offering up my opinion on the matter, I have been most interested in trying to find out what actually went on during the 11-hour NHLPA meeting that took place in Chicago on Monday.

Today I received some insight into the grueling get together of union leaders and NHL player representatives when I chatted with Steve Valiquette, the player rep for the New York Rangers.

"We were presented with information that I can't share with you yet because I have to first share it with the other players, but let's just say that if you knew what it was, you would have made the same move we were forced to make," said Valiquette.

The back-up goaltender offered that the player reps had been aware of certain "unacceptable" actions by Kelly dating back to his early days as Executive Director less than two years ago. But what the representatives heard during Monday's meeting united them into action against Kelly.

And by united, Valiquette says the player reps were absolutely united, despite published reports to the contrary.

"It was 100% unanimous to remove Paul," stated Valiquette firmly. "We would not have done it if we weren't all in agreement. If one rep was against the move, we would not have done it."

Just because the player representatives were all in agreement does not mean that the meeting was not without some dissension and tense moments. In fact, two key union leaders---including former Islanders captain Pat Flatley---have resigned their posts in the aftermath of Kelly's firing.

"We had to make the right decision to be able to move forward as a union," said Valiquette. "We have great experience in the union now, and a great chain of command."

Still, when it was time for Kelly to join the meeting at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and be told of his fate, Valiquette---despite his strong beliefs---was extremely uneasy.

"It was not fun at all to see him come in the room to be told of our decision," explained Valiquette. "It was very uncomfortable."

Now the NHLPA will be seeking its third leader since hard-liner Bob Goodenow left the union near the end of the league's last labor stoppage. Ted Saskin, who brokered the salary cap and escrow holdings the players now work under, was fired for misdeeds as Executive Director; and then Kelly, who had a less contentious relationship with NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman and his top lieutenant Bill Daly than his two predecessors, did not last two years on the job.

While there was physical proof of Saskin's misdoings---breaking into players' private e-mails, for example---nothing of the sort has been attached to Kelly just yet. Perhaps his greatest misdeed is that the players perceived Kelly to be too cozy with Bettman and Daly, though he often publicly---and in a gentlemanly way---opposed the league on several key matters.

Valiquette just smiled when asked if this is the case, or if the players are seeking a tougher leader for the next round of CBA negotiations.

What Valiquette and the other 29 player reps need to do now is educate their constituency as to why Kelly is no longer the union boss. As reported in The Toronto Sun, there are players clearly baffled as to why Kelly was voted out as Exceuive Director.

In fact, in the Rangers dressing room today---no more than 15 minutes after I spoke with Valiquette---veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival asked a group of reporters if they knew why Kelly had been fired. We referred him to his team's player rep, Valiquette, who promises a team meeting once training camp starts to answer any and all questions.

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