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Thursday, September 03, 2009
More on NHLPA

The news that a union leader is fired by his members a mere two years after assuming his position is unusual. When the firing occurs before he even begins to negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement and is notified at 3:30 AM after a two-hour nighttime meeting , this event becomes shocking or farcical, depending on one's point of view.

It's too early to verify why Paul Kelly was unceremonious fired from his position as NHLPA's executive director. Sources have claimed that it had nothing to do with Kelly's "coziness" with the NHL brass, but rather with evidence allegedly presented by the union's ombudsman that Kelly accessed sealed transcripts of union meeting minutes in violation of NHLPA regulations. One source said the ombudsman claimed that the minutes Kelly wanted access to concerned a meeting of the NHLPA Advisory Board in which a four-member panel of player representatives was appointed to investigate concerns about how the NHLPA office was being run. The presentation was made a meeting from 1:00 - 3:00 AM early Monday morning.

However, was it only this alleged violation that led to the firing? According to the SportsBusiness Journal, the four player panel recommended to their peers that Kelly be dismissed for a variety of reasons, including: concerns about his ability to negotiate a new CBA, doubts about his ability to generate new revenues and the potential resignations of divisional player reps, advisory board members and a large portion of NHLPA staff. The combination of the players’ presentation and the ombudsman's presentation led 22 of 27 players to vote for Kelly’s dismissal.

It can be argued that given past Executive Director Ted Saskin's improper monitoring of member's e-mail, the union was sensitive to such transgressions. Fair enough. But, the action seems rash. Were there any warnings to Kelly about his alleged transgressions? Did he, or his allied (there were a few) have adequate time to prepare a rebuttal? Were there lingering bad feelings between allies of former ombudsman Eric Lindros (who resigned from the position) and Kelly? And, if the union was complaining about Kelly's lack of achievements, was it way too early to make such a conclusion?

It's difficult to understand why Kelly should be blamed for failure to maximum revenue generation and the ability to negotiate a new CBA. He did not get much of a chance to do either. It's not Kelly's fault that the players agreed to a wage cut and payment escrows in their present CBA. He had no part in that agreement. The fact is that NHL's problems with television revenues and the viability of certain franchises (Phoenix, anyone?) can't be blamed on him. Look to NHL leadership, and the union's past leadership for that.

It's still early to assess the damages, but in any event, good luck to the person who will take this job.


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