Thursday, October 25, 2007

NHLPA announces Paul Kelly as their new director

Wednesday didn’t exactly bring any breaking news from the NHL Players Association, the announcement and introduction of Paul Kelly as their new director, merely a formality after word was out last week that after a lengthy search, the NHLPA had found their man.

Kelly a Boston lawyer, takes over a union which has been at war with itself for a number of months that after the forced removal of Ted Saskin from the job, after reported irregular activities over e mails led many to believe that the association was heading in the wrong direction.

In Kelly’s first address to the media, he preached a process of consultation, looking to visit each and every team over the next month or so in order to introduce himself to the over 700 members, learning their issues and urging the rank and rile to become more involved in their association.

A daunting task, for a union that has been plagued by apathy and is at times not the most cohesive group of participants. The Teamsters these guys will never be confused with.

Kelly’s arrival will however signal a change in the relationship between the players and the league, a relationship which by all indications has benefited the league’s interests over the last few years.

As for relations with Gary Bettman, Kelly wants to meet and have a chat, respectful and proactive to better further the game and of course the position of his new constituents, the members of the association. However, respectful most likely won’t translate into chummy, a term which seemed to dog Saskin as his days dwindled as head of the union.

Kelly, said he understands that hockey is a business, a joint venture if you will, but he also knows when the time comes to draw the line and to work tirelessly on behalf of the players.

However, there was no talk today of strikes, lockouts, contracts or hard feelings with management or fellow union members, instead a forward thinking vision of where he would like to take the association and how he sees himself fitting into their affairs.

Kelly has a pretty impressive resume and is best known in hockey circles for taking part in the prosecution of Alan Eagleson, the original director of the NHLPA who like Saskin found himself ousted after a number of players began to question his efforts on their behalf. Eagleson, found himself in a court room, thanks in a good deal by the efforts of Kelly to unearth the evidence that was presented in court and led to his conviction on fraud charges.

During that trial, a large number of former players watched on with interest, finally secure in the knowledge that a long time wrong had been righted. So it’s not surprising that one of the first projects that Kelly wishes to tackle is a better relationship with and improved assistance for former players, many of whom are suffering financial and health problems.

For far too long, NHL players once they leave the game for the most part disappeared into a black hole, unless they were the highest of profile players they were for the most part forgotten by the league, their old teams and many of their fellow players.

Over the years there have been countless stories of ancient warriors, left destitute and in failing health with no one to turn to. Kelly would like to change that, providing his office as a conduit for them and to help provide some relief for those human issues.

If he can follow through on that initiative, as well as provide an open and transparent handling of the current player’s affairs, then his 10 million dollar, five year salary will seem like one of the best insurance policies that the players could ever have invested in.

The union’s credibility is still tarnished, many of the players still apathetic, but slowly it seems that they are turning their affairs around. Wednesday most likely was treated as a very positive day for the players association, the end of a dark period of their times and perhaps the rebirth of a more effective advocate for their interests.
What will be interesting to watch will be the reaction and subsequent relationship that the NHL office has from today's confirmation.

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