August 31, 2009
Where were you at 3 a.m. this morning? Because that's when Paul Kelly was busy losing his job.
Darren Dreger of TSN reported this morning that Kelly was fired as NHLPA executive director during their annual meetings in Chicago. Here's what the NHLPA had to say in a statement, after "an in-depth analysis of the NHLPA's operations":
"Following the Executive Board's review of the overall operation of the NHLPA, it was decided that Paul Kelly should no longer continue to serve as Executive Director. We appreciate Mr. Kelly's service to our Association."
Dreger, who broke the story that Kelly was in trouble, is wondering why he was kicked to the curb:
Whispers of unhappiness with Kelly's distance with some players was itemized as a concern going into Sundays showdown, while a perception Kelly may have been too close to the NHL commissioners office was also offered by a source close to the battle as an issue as well.
Keep in mind that Gary Bettman spoke to the NHLPA membership for the first time in his commissionership on Kelly's watch, so perceptions of coziness could be understandable. Of course, there's also some history with NHLPA directors getting, uh, a little too personal with the players, too.
Was this the right move for the players? Instant feedback says "no."
Kelly's tenure had triumphs and controversy. He's been outspoken at times, including a "we need to get back on ESPN" commentary that riled the NHL's cable partners at Versus. Yet he was also at the center of Eric Lindros's(notes) resignation as NHLPA ombudsman, as the former Philadelphia Flyers star said "employees who complained about the union suffered retaliation" under Kelly.
Dreger writes that NHLPA ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, general counsel Ian Penny and advisory board head Ron Pink (a much more influential person than anyone who writes here) could be in line for the executive director's chair.
The Hockey News's Ken Campbell looks at those names and others, and deems this decision as the work of the "old guard" that wants to "oppose the league on every single issue and make a confrontation out of everything possible." From Campbell:
But the question is, if that's what it wanted, why was [NHLPA chief Bob] Goodenow shown the door in the first place and why was he replaced by Kelly, who had made it clear from the start that he was going to conduct the association's business in a less confrontational way?
Goodenow was deemed to be expendable when the players looked at the possibility of missing two years of paychecks and promptly soiled their pants. One season had already been wasted and even though Goodenow told players long before the lockout to prepare to sit out for as long as two seasons, when push came to shove, the players opted to get back to playing hockey and making money.
And despite the so-called salary cap, the players are doing better than they ever have before. Big money for stars hasn't gone away and the uncertainty surrounding the cap has given many of them the luxury of job security they never had under the old deal. The players are continuing to fight for the NHL to be involved in the Olympics against the league's instincts and continue to work with the league on what was supposed to be a new era of partnership.
Fair points, but perhaps the players are finally starting to understand what they're up against in the next CBA negotiation.
I haven't spoken to any players lately about the CBA and the players association, but the topic has come up several times this summer in conversations with their agents. To a man, they say the same thing: There's a war coming again in NHL labor negotiations. Long-term contracts, international play, player input into League decisions like expansion and relocation, and the players' slice of the pie in general.
Their perception is that the NHLPA as currently constituted is ill-prepared for the fight while the NHL is scratching at the walls in preparation for it. Whether that's accurate or not, I can't say for certain; although firing your executive director at 3 a.m. before he's even had the chance to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement doesn't speak to stability.
As for Kelly, he'll be missed. He was a public advocate for the players, and a thoughtful observer of the game. Take his comments on the instigator rule, made to Adam Proteau of The Hockey News:
Certain people on the management side of hockey did express what is obvious, which is that removal of the instigator rule probably creates a bit of a PR problem and issue, in terms of how certain segments of the public might receive that and whether or not they misread that as a signal of moving backwards, and bringing in more aggressiveness and more fighting back into the sport.
But we as players talk about it - and again, I express I'm only two-thirds of the way through (talking to all the players), so I can't really tell you what our position is officially - but when we talk about it, we do so in the sense that the players do believe there's a code of respect on the ice.
And they do believe there are certain players who, unfortunately, play a certain style of hockey which is not well-received by their colleagues, and potentially can be harmful to opposing players. And they believe that if the instigator rule was modified, it would deter that conduct by a handful of players, and you've got to bring that style of play under control.
Thoughtful, eloquent and a passionate defender of his constituents. But, evidently, not what the NHLPA was looking for; so what do they want? Kevin Allen of USA Today on Twitter opined:
Considering that players didn't like Paul Kelly's user-friendly approach, I would predict the NHLPA will hire a hardliner to replace him.
Enjoy hockey while you can, folks.