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Executive board wants to settle with Kelly

Former NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly.

Paul Chiasson/CP

The National Hockey League Players' Association conducted its fair share of business Sunday night, including an executive board vote in favour of negotiating a contract settlement with former executive director Paul Kelly.

That much is clear.

What's open to debate is how the 30-member executive board voted on tearing up the five-year contract of legal counsel Ian Penny and firing ombudsman Buzz Hargrove and advisory board chairman Ron Pink. Sources have said the executive did precisely that only to learn the vote didn't count since several players had dropped off the call because of its six-hour length. Others have said it was more a straw poll than an official vote.

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The NHLPA's constitution calls for 25 players to form a quorum and 20 votes to pass a motion. Sources said there were votes on the future of Penny, Hargrove and Pink but that the 25 and 20 numbers were not reached thereby rendering the process meaningless.

One insider suggested the conference's agenda was deliberately set so that the key matters were at the end when players were losing interest.

The NHLPA took exception to that saying, "These are further examples that there is a campaign by unnamed sources to spread misleading and completely baseless information regarding internal business matters to the public through the media."

Penny's role was discussed in the wake of last week's embarrassing development. He is believed to have asked former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry for his opinion on Kelly's firing. McMurtry's take was that the NHLPA had just cause to dismiss Kelly for reading the transcripts of a players-only meeting.

However, there was no mention of McMurtry being an associate of another former NHLPA executive director, Alan Eagleson, who was once prosecuted for fraud and embezzlement by Kelly, then a U.S. attorney. The NHLPA was forced to say it was seeking a second legal opinion.

That angered some of the same executive board members who had agreed in late August to give Penny a five-year contract and appoint him interim executive director. The NHLPA will hold another conference call in the weeks ahead to address these issues again.

Kelly's status was handled Sunday when the executive chose to negotiate with him instead of forcing a legal showdown. Kelly has one year remaining on a contract that paid him $1.5 million (all currency U.S.) and a $400,000 bonus. There was also a two-year option.

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The McMurtry report was critical of Kelly's revenue-generating abilities, office-management skills and his preparations for collective bargaining with the NHL. There were also those critical of how the report was conducted.

At one point, McMurtry noted Kelly had admitted to reading the players-only transcript in e-mails he had sent to NHLPA members Mike Ouellet and Glenn Healy. Kelly read the transcript to see if the players had violated their constitution, as they had in awarding Penny a five-year deal. McMurtry argued Kelly read the transcripts to find out if his "employment was in jeopardy," which it was.

Ironically, accessing private e-mails cost Ted Saskin his job as executive director, which opened the door for Kelly's hiring. Before the six-hour call, there was speculation the NHLPA would have to revamp its organizational structure to make it more effective and attractive to the next executive director. After Saskin's firing, the association formed an eight-member advisory board and added an ombudsman, Eric Lindros, who resigned earlier this year amid reports he and Kelly did not get along.

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