Friday, May 11, 2007

Saskin sent packin’

90 minutes was all it took for the NHLPA to advise their most recent leader that his services were no longer required. Ted Saskin, the embattled head of the players association was removed by unanimous vote Thursday.

With that decision another tempestuous chapter in the Association’s history came to a form of closure, though it’s expected that Saskin will be heading for court, to make sure that he receives what he calls: “a fair resolution of my contractual rights with the NHLPA.” Which must be lawyerese for my attorney will talk with your attorney…?

With Saskin now heading for the sunset, the NHLPA will have to get busy to install new leadership at the top, making sure that eventually the duties of the Players Association will return to actually taking care of the PA’s needs.

Alan Maki provided a fairly complete piece in the Globe and Mail, that more or less brings this dispute into a bit of perspective.

Players take 90 minutes to axe Saskin
From Friday's Globe and Mai

CALGARY — Trent Klatt was at home in Northern Minnesota when he heard that Ted Saskin had been fired as the executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association.
As one of the principal dissidents who questioned Saskin's hiring and handiwork as the union boss, Klatt should have felt vindicated yesterday, maybe even satisfied.

Instead, he was stunned and angry.

Before the NHLPA's executive board met by telephone conference call and voted unanimously to fire Saskin with cause, they were informed in writing by Toronto lawyer Chris Paliare that Saskin had accessed the players' private e-mail accounts, not for the benefit of the players, but rather for "Mr. Saskin's personal interests."

Ted Saskin responds to a question during a news conference in Toronto, in this July 28, 2005 file photo. Saskin, the NHLPA executive director, was fired Thursday as executive director of the NHL Players' Association. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

According to Paliare's report, the surveillance had been going on since 2005 and included "the external [non-NHLPA] e-mail account of one former player and the reading of solicitor-client privileged communications."

Klatt, who retired two years ago, is convinced he is the former player and that his personal e-mail was accessed before the lawsuit he and two other NHL players filed against Saskin in October of 2006.

"It was disturbing to hear that my NHLPA e-mail account was compromised, and I felt sick when I heard that," Klatt said by e-mail. "If NHLPA employees were tapping into my non-NHLPA e-mail account and viewing my personal e-mails, as well as all communications with my lawyers, I will be horrified and pursue those responsible through all legal avenues available to me, both criminally and civilly."

Klatt wasn't the only one talking of legal action.

During the executive board's 90-minute conference call, the players discussed Saskin's response to being fired with cause. Firing with cause means the NHLPA will agree to fulfill only certain financial obligations, but not pay Saskin the estimated $6-million (all currency U.S.) that remains on his contract.

One player, who asked not to be identified, said the NHLPA expects Saskin to sue. Even Saskin made a veiled reference to what could happen next in a statement to The Canadian Press.
"I will work towards a fair resolution of my contractual rights with the NHLPA and wish them well in the future," Saskin wrote.

Phoenix Coyotes forward Kevyn Adams, a member of the NHLPA's interim executive committee, said firing Saskin was a clear-cut decision.

"There wasn't any support for him," Adams said." It was unanimous that this was something we needed to do. Once we saw the report from the lawyer we hired [Paliare], it was evident. We took his advice [to fire Saskin]."

Saskin's troubles began almost the moment he was chosen as the successor to Bob Goodenow. Saskin's hiring allegedly bypassed the NHLPA's constitution, while Klatt, along with Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson, claimed Saskin misrepresented salary figures of other sports union bosses to negotiate a five-year deal worth $10-million.

Initially, Klatt, Chelios and Roloson were belittled by NHLPA officials as being too loud and too offbase to bother with. Their lawsuit against Saskin in 2006 was dismissed by a U.S. federal court judge who ruled that the suit should have been filed in Southern Ontario, where the NHLPA head office is based.

When it was later reported Saskin had been allegedly accessing player e-mail — Toronto police investigated the matter, but have not filed criminal charges — support for Klatt, Chelios and Roloson grew even among Saskin's supporters.

"I always knew that we were doing the right thing," Klatt said, "and it was easy to continue to fight for the players when we knew that we were on the right side of right."

The NHLPA placed Saskin on a paid leave of absence in early March when it learned that private e-mail had allegedly been accessed. Ken Kim, the association's director of marketing, was also suspended with pay.

Kim's status was debated yesterday and no formal announcement was made, although he, too, could be fired with cause and cut off financially.

"The situation with Ken Kim is still up in the air," Adams said. "We need to look at our options as an executive board and make a decision on him at a later date."

The NHLPA will have more information when Toronto lawyer Sheila Block completes her independent review of how Saskin was hired and how he ran the association during his 22-month stint.

Block's report will be presented in August and could provide the players with ammunition to pursue legal action against Saskin.

In the meantime, the players have planned to hold another conference call before the end of the month to hire a head-hunting firm to begin the search for a new executive director. There is a notion this time that the NHLPA should look outside the hockey world for a candidate who can increase revenue as a strong advocate for the union.

As for Saskin, he exited for the moment by saying he remained "proud of all the work I did for NHL players over the last 16 years and particularly in negotiating the new CBA, which has been working out well."

With a report from Tim Wharnsby

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