Chris Chelios confirmed that he and the NHLPA's search committee have unanimously nominated attorney Paul Kelly to be their next executive director:
October 15, Associated Press: The NHL Players' Association officially nominated former assistant U.S. attorney Paul Kelly on Monday for its executive director position. The unanimous nomination was made during a conference call Monday night with the union's 30 player representatives, who will conduct a secret ballot vote during the next week. A majority vote is required for Kelly to be elected.
The Red Wings defenceman is guardedly optimistic about Kelly holding the PA's so-called "partners," a.k.a. the NHL, accountable for their actions:
"We've got a way to see what happens, but he's been recommended," Chelios said Monday night in Anaheim after Detroit's 6-3 loss. "Obviously the word's out, so it just remains to be seen what the board thinks and what the players think, and we'll go from there."
Ted Saskin was fired as executive director union last May amid allegations he ordered the spying of NHLPA player e-mail in the midst of a player uprising that challenged how he took over for Bob Goodenow after the NHL lockout in 2005.
"A lot of it had to do with where we are now," Chelios said. "We'll discuss it at length with the players and inform them about why we came to this decision. And we all believe we made the right decision.
"He obviously knows the law, and he's been in pressure situations, legal situations, and we're stuck with the CBA for the next two years at least -- maybe five -- and I think we have to learn the CBA first, and then make sure that everybody's held accountable for that. And if anybody tries to cheat now or do anything wrong, we've got the right guy now."
Naming Kelly wasn't the PA's only order of business on their Monday conference call with all 30 teams' player representatives:
October 15, TSN: The union membership is also dealing with the ratification of its revised constitution, a multi-page document that specifies significant change to the structure of the NHLPA's executive.
The changes in the constitution include the detachment of the title of General Counsel from the position of Executive Director.
Historically, both jobs have been filled by the same person. Pending ratification, the union will hire a lawyer to work closely with the newly appointed executive director.
An ombudsman will also be added to the mix with this individual, likely a former player, acting as the "eyes and ears" for the membership to ensure the lines of communication between the players and the newly hired executives remain open at all times.
The voting will also be drastically altered. With the elimination of the players' executive committee each team will receive a maximum of one vote, cast by the appointed player rep.
When asked about the email conversations between Saskin and both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman--who suggested that Saskin send Chelios on a one-way trip to Moscow--and deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who actively assisted Saskin in attempting to undermine the player insurgency, Chelios was blunt:
October 16, Globe and Mail: "I'd like to sit down in a room with Gary Bettman and ask him what he meant by that," Chelios said. "I would love to know. For the past two years, the way Ted conducted himself, it doesn't surprise me one bit. As far as Gary Bettman [and the NHL] is concerned, there's no question what they did was unethical.
"The NHL supported [Saskin]. Was it illegal? No. Was it morally wrong? Yes."
Chelios, along with former player Trent Klatt and Edmonton Oilers' goaltender Dwayne Roloson, was a significant thorn in Saskin's side for two years. Those known as dissidents were upset at how Saskin was hired in the wake of Bob Goodenow's resignation and how Saskin was signed to a five-year contract worth $10-million.
Later, after it was alleged Saskin had accessed the players' private email accounts to learn who was against him, the dissidents grew in number and were able to suspend Saskin and then fire him with what they believed was cause. That decision was endorsed by Toronto lawyer Sheila Block, who oversaw an independent investigation into Saskin's dealings.
As Chelios noted, his stance hasn't exactly changed--since the 1995 lockout, when Chelios suggested that commissioner Bettman ought to watch his back:
October 16, Detroit News: "I feel the same way about him (Bettman) and Daly and Saskin as I did from Day One," Chelios after said Monday's morning skate in Anaheim. Chelios is a longtime critic of the three hockey leaders. "Just look back at some of my quotes. Everyone knows how I feel about them."
Chelios went a step further, acknowledging what many observers believe--that several prominent player agents attempted to lobby their clients to go to the NHL outside the NHL-NHLPA relationship to quietly agree to a salary cap, and Chelios went straight for the king of player agents in doing so:
October 16, Detroit Free Press: Chelios also had harsh words for agent Don Meehan, whose clients among the Wings include Nicklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper.
"In my opinion, Donny Meehan played a role in undermining our union," Chelios said. "He's been involved in investments that were, to say the least, sketchy or shady. Now, with the e-mails we've looked at, and this is my opinion, he took a role with Daly and Bettman and Saskin. The players' union was the least thing in his mind."
As Chelios has noted previously, the full story of what happened during the lockout, as well as what happened during Ted Saskin's tenure as the PA's executive director, has yet to be told:
"There's a lot more than people know about, and when a new executive director gets in there and he starts talking to the players, let them handle it," Chelios said before Kelly's nomination was announced. "It's far from being over. There's a computer hard drive missing. Ted said he destroyed it. Who knows where it is? You don't know what to believe."
Though Chelios, 45, is nearing the end of his storied NHL career, he insists he has no future as a union leader. He has told younger players they need to care more because soon he won't be around to lead the fight. "I want what's best for the union and what's best for the league," he said.
There is, of course, the caveat, and it's a simple one--the league-friendly media, led by MSG Network's Stan Fischler, will continue to claim that a fully-functioning labour union influenced by Chris Chelios will lead to the downfall of the league:
October 15, MSG Network: So, Paul Kelly becomes new boss of the NHL Players' Association. Since Chris Chelios and Eric Lindros were on the selection committee we can expect the new union's new Executive Director to share Bob Goodenow's militancy - unless we hear different from Kelly, himself. Should Kelly take the NHLPA to a more compromising position, it will be the upset of the half-century.
Already, we've heard from one prominent agent who makes it clear that he'll be surprised if the majority of players allow Kelly to lead them into another no-win war. "There's too much to lose," the agent insists. The problem is this: will the small, but dominating, Chelios clique take another one of their macho, war-like stances?
While some members of the media wisely note that the NHL's one-time golden boy, Bill Daly, is now under the microscope like never before, those who were around to unseat the first executive director of the NHLPA say that Kelly's the right man to right the union's ship--if only for the first time:
October 16, Toronto Star: On a conference call with NHL team player representatives last night, a five-member search committee led by Detroit's Chris Chelios recommended the players union hire the 52-year-old Kelly, who is an unknown to many in the hockey industry.
But people who know Kelly say his ties to hockey run deep. In the 1990s, Kelly worked closely with former Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Brewer in efforts to prosecute NHLPA founder Alan Eagleson. At the time, Canadian authorities were uninterested in Brewer's claims that Eagleson had mismanaged the Toronto union's money.
There were worries that U.S. authorities would similarly disregard complaints against Eagleson.
"We had been told that the Mulroney government had put a lot of pressure on (former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno) to have the case against Eagleson dropped in the U.S.," said Susan Foster, Brewer's long-time companion. "Paul Kelly was adamant that was not going to happen. If it wasn't for him, I believe Eagleson would not have gone to jail.
"I think hiring Paul would be a beautiful new beginning for the union," she said.
One way or another, under Kelly's tenure, the truth will probably come out, if only in piecemeal fashion:
Some players and agents are now asking the union to release email correspondence between Saskin and several prominent hockey agents after learning how close Saskin was to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. In several instances, according to emails reviewed by the Star, Daly passed on to Saskin information that was not widely known about who his enemies within the union might be.
The man who helped Kelly nail Eagleson--the Eagle Tribune's Russ Conway--says that Kelly's hiring should satisfy both the NHLPA's membership and fear-mongers like Fischler:
October 16, New York Sun: "(Kelly's) a great choice for players and families, and for the game and their fans," said Hall of Fame hockey writer Russ Conway. "The reason is because he can get things done in a manner that isn't always a battle and a war. He has the ability to get people to listen to different points of view... He isn't a warmonger."