Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A more tradtional relationship may be on the way

The NHLPA has nominated their candidate to take over the leadership of the players union, former US attorney, Paul Kelly, a no nonsense, advocate for the players and most likely, more inclined to take a more traditional approach to labour relations with the NHL.

Kelly is best known in hockey circles for two key events in recent hockey history, when he represented Marty McSorley after the infamous Donald Brashear attack, and for his involvement in the process to bring Alan Eagleson to justice. The latter event saw the former NHLPA executive director agree to plead guilty on fraud and embezzlement charges and brought to an end a rather controversial era to the NHL labour scene.

That was the last great scandal in labour relations until last years overthrow of Ted Saskin, the NHLPA head who found himself under increased scrutiny and eventually dismissed over alleged incidents of hacking into the player’s e mail accounts. Saskin was terminated as the NHLPA head after it reportedly became common knowledge of his electronic gathering, apparently while seeking out the identity of dissenters to his leadership.

Saskin’s fascination with e mail seems to have made a come back on the union radar with more details over the weekend courtesy of the Toronto Star’s Rick Westhead, who has an interesting review of events posted to the Toronto Star website.

In the Westhead article, the picture of Daly as more of a pipeline to the NHL than an advocate for the players seems to be portrayed. As he and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly exchanged e mail correspondences that have raised the eyebrows and the ire of many of the NHLPA rank and file.

In one particular e mail, Daly reportedly forwarded to Saskin, a correspondence between himself and TSN's Gord Miller (good luck getting any player interviews this season), which outlined lawyer Ian Pulver and former NHL star Steve Larmer as two staunch opponents to the direction that Saskin was taking the players association.

Another now infamous correspondence, has Saskin e mailing Commissioner Gary Bettman advising that he may send Chris Chelios to a planned meeting in Russia in 2006, a suggestion which produced a reply from the Commissioner, that a one way ticket for Chelios might be an idea.

While the reply shows one of the few indications that Gary Bettman has a sense of humour, the rather cozy familiarity that he and Saskin seemed to share, has raised alarm bells about how the relationship between union and management may have been co-opted.

It’s anticipated that if Kelly is approved on October 23rd with a simple majority of NHL players, that the past days of back channels and inside information will be brought to an end.

This will be an important step for the players association, which has the opportunity to re-open the NHL-NHLPA agreement in the 2008-09 season. The first opportunity that they will have to seek redress to their grievances over the way that those negotiations evolved, now with the added suggestion that they may have been undermined from within during that time.

There has been some debate as to how much power a new Executive Director will have, in August, Eric Lindros who is a member of the NHLPA's constitutional committee and has been a major player in the behind the scenes process to reclaim the union over the last few months.

Lindros said in August, that the thirty teams will have much more of a say in the day to day operations of the association than in the past and that any new director will most likely have less power than his predecessors.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the players association should Kelly be acclaimed as the Executive Director, one thing is certain the congratulatory telegram from the NHL (if there is one) will no doubt be short and business like, emoticons and jokes most likely won’t be part of the day to day correspondence schedule from now on.

Even more important will be the distancing of the association from the league, a more familiar union/management relationship is on the horizon for the NHL, one which may see the league return to the more heated debates of the past.

Stephen Brunt reviews the events that transpired during the Saskin years, with a riveting tale of duplicity and power plays that left the union battered and questioning whether their union really had their interests at heart at a key point in NHL history.

At least from the players point of view, they will now only have one battle to fight in the future, the agent provocateurs from within will have been deleted, a process that the NHL itself is probably wishing it had done with some embarrassing e mails, correspondences that have left a trail of suspicion dating back more than a few years now.

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