Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Will it be a Pink slip Thursday for Ted Saskin?

The twisted path of leadership success and then mounting rebuke for NHLPA head Ted Saskin may finally come to a dead end on Thursday.

Alan Maki of the Globe and Mail is reporting that the NHLPA is set to cut Saskin adrift, fired with cause as they say, as the lengthy bout of finger pointing, secret meetings and cell phone calls comes to an end.

The move as interpreted by the NHLPA will result in the Players Association not having to pay out Saskin’s contract, which is a rather nice parachute of 6 million dollars US if allowed to open.

Of course the move by the NHLPA will most likely result in a number of lawyers smacking their lips and dreaming the dream of billable hours.

Saskin’s leadership came under heavy fire earlier this year when it became public that he had been eavesdropping on member’s e mails, a move which led to a Toronto police investigation.

Rebellious members of the NHLPA began their steps in earnest at that time to have him removed, pointing to a number of other concerns that they had about his leadership. As the weeks would wind down, Saskin’s supporters on the NHLPA began to drift away as well, leaving his leadership on thin ice and the expected announcement on Thursday but a formality.

Players set to lower the boom on Saskin
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ted Saskin's troubled reign as the executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association ends Thursday.

All indications are Saskin will be fired with cause during an afternoon telephone conference call involving NHL player representatives. Firing with cause means the players allege they will not have to pay Saskin what is left on his contract, an estimated $6-million (all currency U.S.).

That could set the stage for a nasty legal conflict between the man who succeeded Bob Goodenow and the people who were still paying him while he spent the past two months on leave.

Saskin was suspended after allegedly admitting to two NHLPA officials that he had read player e-mail, a violation of trust if not a criminal offence. (Toronto police did investigate Saskin's accessing of e-mail, but have not filed charges.)

It has also been alleged by two current NHL players (Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson) and retired player Trent Klatt that Saskin "illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars in union funds for his own benefit."

Toronto lawyer Sheila Block was hired to investigate Saskin's hiring as the executive director and how business was conducted during his time in office.

Block's report is scheduled for completion in the summer.

Another Toronto lawyer, Chris Paliare, was retained by the players in late March for advice on how to deal with Saskin after he was put on leave. Paliare spoke with Saskin and examined his five-year contract. Paliare talked to Ken Kim, the NHLPA's director of marketing, who was also suspended with pay for his role in accessing player e-mail.

Paliare recently sent a summary of his report to the player reps. It is believed his opinion applies to both Saskin and Kim: fire with cause and pay only what is legally required in terms of vacation pay and such, or fire without asserting cause and pay a severance.

Over the past several weeks, information on how Saskin operated and refused to answer questions has circulated among the players. Even Saskin's one-time supporters have undergone a change of heart and see him as a liability, which is why firing him and cutting off his paycheques are Thursday's likely course of action.

While that could lead to Saskin's filing a lawsuit in rebuttal, it would also allow the players to countersue in what would surely be a long and costly process, one that would drain Saskin faster than it would the players.

Either way, Saskin's run as the head of the NHLPA is over and not without irony. During his almost 22-month term, there were times when Saskin did not have the unanimous support of the players. For example, the vote to appoint him as the executive director was done by conference call, not by secret ballot, as the NHLPA constitution requires. It has been alleged, too, that to fight off a Chelios, Roloson and Klatt legal challenge in Illinois, Saskin used NHLPA funds to offset his legal costs without receiving the right approval.

For his ousting, the vote could very well be all in favour and none against.
As to what will happen next, NHLPA legal counsel Stu Grimson and Ian Penny are positioned to handle the day-to-day operations before the search for Saskin's successor begins.

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