NHLPA Head Paul Kelly Fired

Jonathan Willis
August 31 2009 01:06PM

Darren Dreger of TSN first broke the news that elements within the NHLPA were dissatisfied with Paul Kelly’s performance as the head of the NHLPA. At 3AM eastern time, Dreger passed on the news that the NHLPA executive board (made up of the thirty team representatives) had voted to terminate Kelly’s employment.Details are still sketchy, and the chief question – why? – remains unanswered this morning. Until we know what rationale the players association had for firing Kelly, it’s impossible to judge if it was the correct move. However, early signs are not encouraging.

The first alarming item is the men who organized this palace coup. By all accounts, the man leading the way was none other than NHLPA interim ombudsman, and former Canadian Autoworkers Union head Buzz Hargrove.

The CAW has long been associated with the NDP at both the federal and provincial levels. Hargrove almost single-handedly destroyed ties with the two entities by encouraging “tactical voting” to stop the Conservatives in the 1999 Ontario provincial and 2006 Canadian federal elections. Such tactical voting actually worked in the favour of both the Harper and Harris Conservatives, and in 2006 Hargrove was expelled from the NDP. The CAW retaliated by severing all union ties with the party.

Hargrove has drawn fire from more centrist sources as well – including Paul Martin, who he supported for Prime Minister in 2006. Martin was forced to turn on Hargrove after Hargrove gave a speech encouraging voters in Quebec to vote for the Bloc Quebecois over the Conservatives; this despite the fact that the Bloc Quebecois’ raison d’etre is the breakup of the country.

In February, Hargrove was named ombudsman after Eric Lindros resigned the post due to disagreements with Kelly. In this capacity, Hargrove led the attack on Kelly.

In addition to Hargrove, key organizers behind the putsch are seen to be former ombudsman Eric Lindros, advisory board head Ron Pink and general counsel Ian Penny. I can’t put it any better than Ken Campbell did in The Hockey News:

The ringleaders in Kelly’s dismissal are a former player who has run up against the establishment at every turn and resigned from the PA because he couldn’t work with Kelly (Lindros); the man who didn’t get the job when the PA decided Kelly would be a better choice (Pink); and one of the most confrontational labor leaders of our generation (Hargrove).

Penny also stands as a possible replacement for Kelly.

Still, the rogues’ gallery that ousted Kelly is only part of the reason why at first glance his dismissal looks to be a poor decision. Another key factor is the reasoning behind the decision. Scott Morrison does a nice job of summarizing the various theories out there:

According to whispers, he was too tight with the league, didn't work hard enough at getting to know his own constituents and didn't focus on the issues the players felt were most important, whatever the heck that means. There is even one report that suggests his biggest sin was being too media friendly. None of which are remotely reasonable grounds for dismissal, of course. But they are bullets in the chamber of what is now a smoking gun that was fired at Kelly early Monday morning in Chicago.

For the first time in ages, the players’ association looked like it could work with the NHL. Paul Kelly made a public effort not to let the acrimony which characterized the relationship between Gary Bettman and former NHLPA head Bob Goodenow (which ultimately resulted in the loss of the 2004-05 NHL season) continue; as a result, he’s criticized as being too friendly with the league.

Kelly’s criticized as being too distant from the players; but then, that’s hardly surprising given that the two men who held the role of ombudsman – and thus acted in many ways as the players’ voice - are serial malcontents.

The last sin – that of being too media friendly – is completely absurd. For the first time since Alan Eagleson ran the NHLPA, the union looked to be making public relations gains. It goes without saying that such gains were good for the union – during the 2004-05 lockout, the majority of fans sided strongly with NHL ownership. That support in turn led to a quick recovery after the lockout because many fans – certainly ones in Western Canada - viewed it as necessary. Public pressure could have been a strong weapon in the NHLPA’s favour going forward – a weapon they appear to have no interest in keeping.

A third reason against the NHLPA’s decision is the constant turmoil and political gamesmanship that seems to characterize the union’s head office. Whoever replaces Kelly will be the fourth NHLPA director in just five years. Bob Goodenow stepped down after his hard-line stance was ultimately turned against by the players. His successor, Ted Saskin, was hired improperly and was ultimately dismissed after it was revealed that he was monitoring the emails of players and player agents. Kelly, an outsider recruited by a search committee, represented a welcome breath of fresh air.

All of this brings us to Kelly himself. Kelly spent five years prosecuting former NHLPA head Alan Eagleson. As Chris Chelios put it when Kelly was hired:

“Paul relentlessly pursued a breach of ethics in this union, and that knowledge of our history will undoubtedly drive him to restore integrity to this position and to our Association. His resume is beyond impressive and he is passionate about protecting our best interests. We are excited about what awaits us going forward.”

Additionally, Kelly has both played (in high school and college) and coached (spending five years coaching youth hockey and seven years as a high school coach) the game, and brought over twenty-five years of legal experience to the table. Shawn Horcoff, the Oilers’ union representative and one of the five-man search committee (Eric Lindros was also a member) who unanimously recommended Kelly for the job, was an early supporter:

“During the review and consultation period of this search, Paul Kelly’s name kept coming back to the top of the list as the prime candidate to take us forward. A number of highly qualified candidates were evaluated and interviewed, but at the end of the process, we were unanimous in selecting Paul as the candidate to take back to the membership. His tremendous legal credentials, in addition to his past involvement with players and our Association, really stood out.”

Kelly’s public image since has been beyond reproach; he’s been an insightful commentator on hockey, has worked to restore the NHLPA’s public reputation, and seems to have fixed much of what was dysfunctional in the union’s relationship with the league. The NHLPA’s director and assistant director of player affairs (Glenn Healy and Patrick Flatley) remained Kelly supporters to the bitter end; Flatley reportedly resigned minutes after Kelly was fired.

There may yet be developments that reveal Kelly’s dismissal as a correct – even necessary – move, but for the moment it appears to be yet one more poor decision for a players’ association that has a lengthy history of making them.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
Avatar
#1 Digger12
August 31 2009, 01:40PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

So we've got this upcoming season, and the season after that before we arrive at Armageddon v2...

Looks like the NHLPA want another leader whose main negotiating tactic is "Say no until they cave".

Avatar
#2 danjo1
August 31 2009, 01:41PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

What a mess. Jonathan, do you think this means we're due for another strike/lockout scenario when this current CBA ends?

I actually thought this current CBA was pretty good, the players got a good deal at the end of the day but apparently not...

Avatar
#3 ronaldo
August 31 2009, 01:42PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Hargrove is a douche. Although maybe he'll take over, a work stoppage will shortly ensue, and we'll lose the salary cap- that would sure help the Oil. It seems like it's the nhlpa vs the nhl over who can come accross as the more inept institution. Hard to know where the smart money is in this battle. *shakes head*

Avatar
#4 danjo1
August 31 2009, 01:42PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Digger12 wrote:

Looks like the NHLPA want another leader whose main negotiating tactic is “Say no until they cave”.

How did that work out for them last time?

Avatar
#5 Jonathan Willis
August 31 2009, 01:49PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

danjo1 wrote:

Jonathan, do you think this means we’re due for another strike/lockout scenario when this current CBA ends?

It depends who the PA ends up hiring, but it sounds like the next guy is going to be a hard-liner.

I wouldn't be surprised to see another work stoppage if that turns out to be the case.

Avatar
#6 Digger12
August 31 2009, 01:49PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

danjo1 wrote:

Digger12 wrote: Looks like the NHLPA want another leader whose main negotiating tactic is “Say no until they cave”. How did that work out for them last time?

It didn't, obviously.

Doesn't mean they won't try to test the owners' collective resolve a 2nd time though, especially in a more dire worldwide financial climate than what was around in 04/05.

If Hargrove wins this game of thrones, make sure your bomb shelter is well stocked.

Avatar
#7 RyanB
August 31 2009, 01:55PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I always get the feeling with the NHLPA that the vast majority follows the lead of a very vocal minority. This seems to fit that pattern to a tee. You don't see eye to eye with a couple of people and they lead a charge to have you removed when by all accounts you've done a decent enough job to date. I can't image that most of the players in the NHL actually think Kelly has done a bad job. Strange.

Avatar
#8 Joey Moss
August 31 2009, 02:17PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

It is a well known fact Hargrove is an idiot. If this leads to another work stoppage I hope the players get an even worse deal. This could officially end the NHLs reign as the premier hockey league.

Avatar
#9 danjo1
August 31 2009, 02:22PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@ Joey Moss: good point, but I really can't see the players winning another battle with the owners. In some cases it looks like some Owners would be happy to not resume operations (Phoenix, Tampa, dare I say... NYI).

Avatar
#10 Word
August 31 2009, 02:37PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

The league should hire Kelly.

Avatar
#11 Bar Qu
August 31 2009, 02:38PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

This is probably the worst thing the NHLPA has done in the post-Eagleson era (and no, I don't think that is hyperbole). At least when they lost the lockout it forced them to look at being an actual organisation and not just a frat-boys leadership committee. Now, as is pointed out, they have sacked the only guy in their history who had a clear plan of how a union is supposed to work and what the NHLPA is supposed to focus on (ie the benefit of ALL its members).

As far as a palace putsch is concerned, it does raise questions about how much thought and time is really spent by team reps on PA business. If Kelly seemed distant, then is that because he didn't return calls or simply that the reps didn't bother picking up the phone to call him in the first place.

If Hargrove is central to this process then we can look forward to the kind of labour strife which will diminish the NHL to a glorified minor league. That Labour Hack will happily burn down the house the players live in to spite the owners (who in various places in the US might just be as happy to walk away as stick around).

Seriously, .....

Avatar
#12 Gerald R. Ford
August 31 2009, 02:42PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Notice how Hargrove "retired" from the auto industry right before it went into the crapper? "I got MINE, boys! Good luck!"

His "legacy" is preserved, I guess.

Anyway, if that NUTJOB ascends to the PA throne, the 2005 confrontation will look like a Sunday school picnic in comparison. He's an antagonistic, power-hungry, rhetoric-spewing DOUCHE, and nothing good will come from him getting his grimy hands on that much influence.

Avatar
#13 Spottheloon
August 31 2009, 02:59PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I think that we should nominate Wanye for the Executive Director position with the NHLPA. He would rock!!

Avatar
#14 Librarian Mike
August 31 2009, 03:08PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@ Spottheloon:

Intriguing idea, but I have a better choice:

"CBA? What does that even mean? Here's what letters you need to know - DFH. That stands for Dany F$$king Heatley!"

Avatar
#15 Duke
August 31 2009, 03:20PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

ronaldo wrote:

Hargrove is a douche. Although maybe he’ll take over, a work stoppage will shortly ensue, and we’ll lose the salary cap- that would sure help the Oil. It seems like it’s the nhlpa vs the nhl over who can come accross as the more inept institution. Hard to know where the smart money is in this battle. *shakes head*

There may be some changes, but i'm pretty sure that the salary cap isn't going anywhere.

Avatar
#16 ronaldo
August 31 2009, 03:30PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@ Duke: Oh I know. I have just always found it funny/ frustrating that something we needed for so long to survive, now hinders with Batman in charge.

Avatar
#17 smiliegirl15
August 31 2009, 03:43PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

So what's the scoop on this Ian Penny dude then? He's been named interim. The main problem with Unions is that people cannot be fired even when they should be. Honestly, players make a ton of cash and if they don't perform then owners should be able to fire them with grounds. Do your job or you're outta here, just like the rest of us!!!

Avatar
#18 Jonathan Willis
August 31 2009, 04:33PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Duhatchek's take is interesting.

Avatar
#19 DonDon
August 31 2009, 04:34PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

The long-term future of the NHL is clearly in doubt. Gary Betmann's Phoenix debacle, which will cost the league approximately $40 million this coming season plus the sunk money in keeping the franchise afloat last season and massive lawyers'fees will affect the economics of the NHL for more than the coming season. Other U.S. teams or owners have been experiencing financial hardship. Now the imbroglio with the NHLPA has leaders that are likely to be strident in their demands when the CBA reopens will likely have harmful consequences for all concerned.

Avatar
#20 Clarkenstein
August 31 2009, 04:38PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I can see another lost season soon. But after thinking about it over that wouldn't bother me much. Maybe we could have a season on then a season off. If I'm the league I would go for the jugular in the next negotiation... set the tone so to speak and force them into another stoppage. As a season ticket holder I would only have to spend half the dough!!

Avatar
#21 Wanye Gretz
August 31 2009, 04:57PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Well let's look at it this way. Professional Hockey couldn't possibly fall to hell like the Automobile Industry did under Buzz Hargrove's watch could it?

*nervously adjusts collar, waits for words of reassurance*

Avatar
#22 Harlie
August 31 2009, 05:13PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Buzz Hargrove reminds me of Eagleson. Holds sway with the government and his people follow him blindly while he massages the media with his working man's fight for rights shtick while he wields his power behind closed doors.

Avatar
#23 Jonathan Willis
August 31 2009, 05:27PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Wanye Gretz wrote:

Well let’s look at it this way. Professional Hockey couldn’t possibly fall to hell like the Automobile Industry did under Buzz Hargrove’s watch could it? *nervously adjusts collar, waits for words of reassurance*

Not a chance. Unlike the big auto companies, the NHL is run by smart men who will... nevermind.

Avatar
#24 Pouzar
August 31 2009, 05:51PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Hargrove did an interview not too long ago where he stated that Kelly's dismissal was nothing to do with his relationship with the league. As far as future work stoppages go, cost certainty is here to stay anyways, so I don't really know what the fight will be over. Going into the meetings yesterday, Chelios, Horcoff, Healy and former great Ted Lindsay were there to fight for and defend Kelly. It is ironic because Chelios is one of the biggest hardliners of them all, but he was on the other side. The fact that only 100 players attended the NHLPA meetings in Vegas in June shows that the majority of players don't care about the union that much anyways, so it must be a takeover by a minority. BTW, does anyone else find it odd that a meeting that was scheduled for 7-8 hours or more did not begin until evening? I dunno, just seems weird lol.

Avatar
#25 jeanshorts
August 31 2009, 08:14PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@ Wanye Gretz: @ Jonathan Willis:

You guys are like a modern day Abbott and Costello up in here! I can't wait till you pull out some kind of pie to the face gag.

Avatar
#26 ronaldo
August 31 2009, 08:27PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@ jeanshorts

"I can't wait till you pull out some kind of pie to the face gag."

That's what she said.

Avatar
#27 Shutout
August 31 2009, 08:43PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Hargrove is a short sighted jerk-off. Sure the CAW members got a great deal at the beginning but the end result is the near death of the auto sector. He'll do the same to the NHL. Demand a great deal or we'll sit. Eventually how many US teams will simply pack up shop.

Avatar
#28 Pouzar
August 31 2009, 09:41PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Meh, after listening to Horcoff just now, perhaps they are not necessarily going back to the 'Goodenow days'. He referred to Goodenow's tenure as comparable to a 'communist government' lol. I gotta say ouch for Bob haha...

Avatar
#29 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
August 31 2009, 11:31PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

If the NHLPA is thinking about going on strike after this cba is over, they are going to lose big time, not only money wise but also the fans will come down hard on them and be less forgiving than the last time,If they are listening to Lindros they are really nuts,alot of guys in the show would be lucky to have jobs as pump jockeys,they do not realize how lucky they are.

Avatar
#30 #13 The Rat
August 31 2009, 11:33PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I may be misinformed, but didn't old Buzz also have a huge hand in turning our Canadian airline industry into the bowl of cherries that it is today??

Thanks for ruining two major industries so far, Buzz...maybe he is aiming for the hat-trick??

Avatar
#31 MrOiler
September 01 2009, 02:35AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I have no idea what the real details are, but this makes the NHLPA looks like a bunch of silly kids. And getting advice from Buzz Hargrove (the man who told Quebec to vote for the Block) is insane.

So much for for labour peace in the NHL. Expect another lockout. The NHLPA appears to be so inept that they make the NHL BOG look like the voice of reason and sanity.

I guess we wait for the details ...

Avatar
#32 Digger12
September 01 2009, 08:28AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Damien Cox weighs in, and for once I don't disagree with him one bit:

http://www.thestar.com/sports/article/689174

His closing sentence should scare hockey fans the most:

Now the people who are still fighting the last lockout are poised to take charge of a union of hockey players who don’t want to be bothered with the details.

Avatar
#33 Milli
September 01 2009, 09:05AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I will never forget Buzz, as the auto industry is collapsing around him, he is on his soap box demanding more more more... Now, I have never been a big union backer, I think for the most part, they protect slugs. But, id you are the head of a union, your job is to protect the long term interests of your memebers. So, if you negotiate a contract that continues to kill your industry, what have you ackomplished? I think nothing, why not work with the companies way back when to try and solve the problem instead of just enjoying the sound of your own voice. And Paul Kelley, he seemed smart, he seemed to have a vision, sure seems like a big mistake.

Avatar
#34 Pouzar
September 01 2009, 09:32AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Apparently there are several agents that are very surprised and some that are actually downright furious about what happened. Sounds like future infighting to follow for sure.

Avatar
#35 Dave
September 01 2009, 09:48AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I had to laugh at Duhatschek's suggestion that Healy will soon resign. His attention grabbing I love the sound of my own voice head is too fat to recuse himself from PA proceedings for any reason let alone loyalty.

Avatar
#36 Dave
September 01 2009, 10:03AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

I spoke too soon. Damien Cox, pining for favor, already makes a case for his good buddy Healy to stay on.

"Maybe that's why more than 50 players spent yesterday lobbying Kelly's right-hand man, the widely respected Glenn Healy, to stay on after his colleague Pat Flatley quit in the wake of Kelly's ouster."

The PA will be headed by former players starting with Kellys replacement.

Avatar
#37 Jonathan Willis
September 01 2009, 11:23AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

More on the group that's taking over: basically, get ready for another labour dispute.

It also seems that Penny, the new interim head of the NHLPA, was in some danger from an external audit ordered by Kelly.

Avatar
#38 abunaylor
September 01 2009, 12:11PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

At the risk of pointing out the painfully obvious, I would say none of you, or very few of you, have ever been in a union or know anything about them. Leaving aside how sad it is that union knowledge is so low, there are a couple of things to remember here.

First of all, unions are very democratic, much more democratic than our government, for example. Why that matters here is that it is possible, or even likely, that this was not about a grand shift in direction for the union. Much more likely is that there were some personality issues at play, with competitive factions using any technique they could to take power. Think of it this way. If you could meet, every few months, with the prime minister to discuss the future of the country, at at everyone of those meetings were his primary competitors, telling you they could do it better, don't you think the occasional day-to-day concern might lead you to oust him, and replace him with his opponent? Rather than it be because you want the entire organization to change directions?

Second, Hargrove is not the monster you think he is. He is a different type of monster. In fact, he is much more like Kelly or Glen Healy than he is some rabid left winger. Certainly, his role in the decline of the auto industry is non-existent. He does not do R&D for Ford or Chevy, and there are many successful CAW organized Honda and Toyota plants. As the American auto industry is discovering as they move all their factories to Mexico and still cannot succeed, their failure has nothing to do with unions.

Finally, a union is not a PR organization. Its job is to represent its members. So the suggestion that the pr ramifications of this even crossed the players' reps minds is likely wrong, because it has no pr role.

This is a palace coup, like Duhatschek said, with political results that, at this point, are difficult to determine.

Avatar
#39 Pouzar
September 01 2009, 03:03PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Jonathan Willis wrote:

More on the group that’s taking over: basically, get ready for another labour dispute. It also seems that Penny, the new interim head of the NHLPA, was in some danger from an external audit ordered by Kelly.

If Kelly wants revenge, maybe he should go back to being a federal prosecutor lol, it looks like a few people may have had their hands in wrong the cookie jar...

Avatar
#40 Pouzar
September 01 2009, 03:05PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

"the wrong"

Avatar
#41 Jonathan Willis
September 01 2009, 05:04PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

More on this story.

Today, an accounting consultant named Bob Lundquist resigned from the NHLPA. This would seem to support James Murphy's story that Penny & Lindros were being auditted, since there's plenty of evidence that man named Bob Lundquist used to be a forensic accountant for the FBI.

Avatar
#42 Pouzar
September 01 2009, 08:29PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

Under Lindros, Hargrove and co, the NHLPA will turn into a completely corrupt joke. The only way they can move forward into the current century is by purging the old guard. Bettman must be laughing out loud, how will the union be able to be tough against him when they cannot even get along amongst themselves? Who fires a director making 1.5 million/year at 3:30 in the morning when many players and agents have no idea what is happening? As far as being too friendly with the league, Kelly took the NHL to court twice already (and won) over his short tenure. Maybe Carl Lindros will be the new director lol...

Avatar
#43 Dave
September 02 2009, 09:09AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@ abunaylor: Painfully obvious? I completely disagree, how much were workers making at the Honda & Toyota plants vs the 'domestic' mfgs? Why such disparity?

Comments are closed for this article.