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Paul Kelly is out as executive director of the NHL Players' Association. (Paul Chiasson/CP)
Paul Kelly is out as executive director of the NHL Players' Association. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Kelly dismissal shrouded in mystery Add to ...

The precise reasons for yet another change at the top of the NHLPA were kept a secret by the people responsible for the removal of Paul Kelly yesterday.

Kelly was the third National Hockey League Players' Association executive director to be canned in the past four years. But the basis for his dismissal will be kept quiet for the next day or so. There are legal concerns and the 30-member executive board also wants time to inform the approximate 700 NHL players as to what transpired at a downtown Chicago hotel in a series of meetings that lasted more than 11 hours on Sunday evening and yesterday morning.

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"We want to wait before we elaborate," NHLPA executive board member Chris Chelios said. "We want to talk to the players first and inform them."

The cloak-and-dagger actions by the NHLPA executive board, which is comprised of the 30 team representatives, led to all sorts of speculation as to why Kelly's term at the helm of the players' union ended at just 22 months.

Some of the conjecture suggested Kelly was too cozy with the league front office, that he didn't work hard enough for the players' cause, and that he had been too far removed from the players and the executive board.

The executive board ousted Kelly by a 22-5 vote (three player representatives did not vote) and unanimously appointed NHLPA long-time general counsel Ian Penny as interim executive director. Penny won't seek the job beyond his interim selection. The NHLPA hopes to have a new leader by Jan. 1.

Kelly might also have fallen victim to his apparent lack of popularity in the Toronto NHLPA office.

"That would have been one of many issues that were raised," said interim NHLPA ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, who also has no interest in becoming Kelly's replacement. "But it wasn't as simple as that one issue. It was a question of Paul Kelly being around [22]months and still not being able to build the trust and confidence in the office or with the executive, and that he was the guy to continue on in this role.

"I could only summarize it in that the players felt that given all the issues that they dealt with, not any one in particular, but with all of the concerns combined, they came to the conclusion that they didn't have the trust and confidence in Paul Kelly to lead the union into the future, especially with the CBA [collective agreement]coming closer and closer to and end.

"With a new CBA coming as soon at 2011, and negotiating expected to begin sooner than that, it was felt by the players that if there was going to be a decision made [on Kelly's future]it better be done now."

Assistant director of player affairs Pat Flatley resigned in the wake of the board's decision. Flatley and Glenn Healy, NHLPA director of player affairs, were Kelly supporters. Healy did not return phone calls yesterday.

One NHL player, who requested anonymity, felt it was a positive step to remove Kelly now in case matters worsened. Ted Saskin's reign as executive director was dogged with controversy, from the way he was hired to his alleged monitoring of players' e-mails for personal gain. Saskin was fired in May of 2007; Kelly was hired five months later.

Hargrove replaced Eric Lindros as ombudsman on Mar. 1 after Lindros resigned over his frustration in working alongside Kelly. Hargrove revealed that concerns about Kelly's performance were first raised at the annual executive board meeting in Chicago a year ago.

At the NHLPA summer player meetings in Las Vegas in June, a five-member player committee was put together and a consultant that specializes in human resources was hired to conduct a leadership review. As part of the process, each member of the NHLPA staff was interviewed.

Those findings were presented by the five-player committee in Chicago at the executive board's annual meeting on Sunday. Hargrove also presented his report, which is expected of the ombudsman at the NHLPA annual meeting.

Kelly had three years left on his deal that pays him about $1.75-million (all currency U.S.) annually and included a floating bonus. The NHLPA also is paying off former executive director Bob Goodenow in instalments. He had five years at $2.5-million a year on his deal when forced to resign on July 28, 2005. Saskin took home roughly $400,000 in a negotiated settlement with the NHLPA after being fired.

Kelly was the assistant district attorney involved in a U.S. grand jury investigation into Alan Eagleson, the NHLPA's first executive director, when Eagleson was indicted by a Boston grand jury and pleaded guilty to three counts of mail fraud in 1998.

"After a full review of the overall health of the office and the association, it became clear Paul Kelly was not the right individual for the executive director's role going forward," the executive board said in a statement.

"The easy thing to do as an executive board would have been to continue on with Paul Kelly as our executive director. That would have been the best option from a short-term public relations standpoint, but this isn't about public relations and the executive board had to make the decision we made today in the best interest of our membership.

NHLPA executive director history

Alan Eagleson

Appointed first executive director in NHLPA history in 1967 and forced to resign in 1992. On Jan. 6, 1998, he pleaded guilty to three counts of mail fraud in Boston and was fined $700,000 (U.S.). That same year, he pleaded guilty to three more counts of fraud and embezzlement in Toronto and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

Bob Goodenow

Appointed executive director in 1992. He led the players through the 2004-05 lockout before being asked to resign on July 28, 2005.

Ted Saskin

Appointed executive director on July 28, 2005. He was put on a paid leave of absence when it was learned he was inappropriately accessing the private e-mail accounts of players. On May 10, 2007, he was fired.

Paul Kelly

Appointed executive director on Oct. 24, 2007. He was the assistant district attorney in Boston in the case against Eagleson. He was fired yesterday.

Ian Penny

Named Kelly's interim replacement yesterday. Penny was hired by Goodenow as an associate counsel in the summer of 2000. The former New York labour attorney rose to general counsel, was awarded a five-year extension two months ago and will run the show for now.

 

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