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Lawrence Holden, the arbitrator who ruled in favour of the National Hockey League and the Ottawa Senators in the Alexei Yashin dispute, has been fired by the NHL.

The Boston-based arbitrator was informed by the NHL last Friday that he was being released after one year on the job. Under the collective agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, either side has the right to fire the arbitrator each year on Sept. 1.

Neither Holden nor NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could be reached for comment.

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Gary Meagher, the NHL's vice-president of public relations, said yesterday that there was no specific reason for the firing, just that "the league wanted to go in a different direction with a new arbitrator."

This is the third consecutive year that the arbitrator, who rules on matters involving contracts, has been fired. In the previous two years, arbitrators John Sands and George Nicolau were fired by the NHLPA.

While the Yashin case, in which Holden ruled the player owed the Senators one more year of service on his contract despite sitting out the entire season, was a tremendous victory for the NHL, Holden's fate probably hinged on a decision he made shortly before that.

In late June, Holden ruled that defenceman Mike Van Ryn was an unrestricted free agent. Van Ryn had been drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1998 when he played for the University of Michigan.

Van Ryn did not sign a contract with the Devils and left the school to play junior hockey for the Sarnia Sting last season as a 20-year-old over-age player.

Under the collective agreement, over-age junior players who do not sign with the team that drafts them after two years become free agents. But teams retain the rights to college players for one year after their graduating year.

Van Ryn, who left Michigan two years before his graduation year, argued that he should be an unrestricted free agent, while the Devils and the NHL said he should be considered a "defected player," which means the team could hold his rights indefinitely.

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When Holden sided with the player, it opened the possibility of other college players taking the same route to unrestricted free agency. That could mean NHL teams will be faced with paying more money to get a player on the open market.

Van Ryn signed with the St. Louis Blues for three years for a total of $9.5-million (U.S.). If all of the bonus clauses are reached, Van Ryn will make more money than any defenceman who came into the league since the collective agreement was reached in 1995.

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