The National Hockey League Players' Association executive board will pose one essential question when it convenes by conference call Sunday night: How did things go off the rails so badly?
Tarnished by the firing of executive director Paul Kelly, and embarrassed this week by a problematic legal opinion, the 30-member executive is expected to debate its organizational structure, which some players believe has become too unwieldy.
Legal counsel Ian Penny is serving as interim executive director but the belief is there has been too much input from the association's advisory board and from its ombudsman, former labour leader Buzz Hargrove, who was instrumental in Kelly's dismissal.
Sources say it was Penny who asked former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry for a legal opinion on Kelly's firing, which occurred on Aug. 31. McMurtry stated Kelly deserved to be terminated with cause because he had broken the trust of the players by reading a transcript of a private session he was asked not to attend.
A copy of the McMurtry review was dispatched to the media, some of whom noted a serious conflict of interest. McMurtry was a friend of former NHLPA executive director Alan Eagleson, who was prosecuted by Kelly in 1998 for fraud and embezzlement.
The NHLPA acknowledged the mistake and said it was seeking a second opinion on the Kelly situation. Penny's future with the NHLPA could also be discussed. There are still concerns the association's constitution wasn't followed when the executive board voted in June to give Penny a five-year contract. The initial voting took place when Kelly was asked to leave the meeting.
Kelly had spent just 22 months as Ted Saskin's replacement. Saskin was fired for allegedly accessing the players' private e-mail accounts.