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Already, names are being passed around like pucks in a pregame warm-up.

Hey, what about Stephen Bartlett as the next executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association? He's a smart guy, was interested in the job before Bob Goodenow got it, and he's a player agent, which means he knows his way around the game.

Or what about Mike Gillis, another player agent who understands the history of the NHLPA and what it should stand for? Or Larry Landon, the head of the Professional Hockey Players Association, which looks after the interests of minor-leaguers throughout North America?

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All three are said to be fine fellows with skills to offer.

But here's a suggestion for the NHLPA as it contemplates a successor for the currently-on-leave (translation: shoved-out-the-door) Ted Saskin: don't fall back on traditional ways. Don't assemble a list of candidates with the usual hockey backgrounds.

Think differently. Think outside the rink.

Why? Because the NHLPA needs new blood more than the Edmonton Oilers need their season to end. Because the players have tried it the old way, by naming a former player agent or a senior head-office worker as their union boss, and the results have been occasionally good but also horrific and criminal.

Alan Eagleson took the players for all he could get. Bob Goodenow was hired to end the NHLPA's cozy relationship with the club owners. He was eventually undermined by a group of players and their agents who wanted an end to the lockout of 2004-05, no matter the cost. So out went Goodenow and in came Saskin, who had joined the NHLPA as a senior director for business affairs and licensing.

Today, the players are faced with the possibility of paying $16-million (all dollar figures U.S.) in severance for two guys -- Saskin and Goodenow -- they no longer want. Even a fourth-line forward can tell you that's not good business.

That's why the NHLPA should forget about hiring someone from within the hockey world. Any hockey guy, no matter how respectable, comes with a perceived agenda and with friends and enemies alike. And anyway, it's been tried and the results have been worse than the Chicago Blackhawks' power play.

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What the NHLPA should do is take its cue from major-league baseball and the National Basketball Association. They didn't hire the most powerful player agent or licensing director available. They went out and got someone who suited their needs, even if he didn't know the infield fly rule or what constituted an illegal zone defence. They got Donald Fehr and Bill Hunter.

Hunter was a prosecutor for the District Attorney's office in Northern California. In the late 1970s, he was appointed U.S. Attorney by the President Jimmy Carter. He even ran for U.S. Congress. Then his name was forwarded to the National Basketball Players Association and Hunter was tagged.

Fehr was a Kansas City lawyer who helped the baseball players association in arbitration cases in the 1970s before being hired as Marvin Miller's replacement. Miller headed the MLBPA for more than a decade.

His background included a stint with the United Steel Workers of America.

As for the National Football League Players Association, Gene Upshaw was elected as the president in 1983 after a 16-year career with the Oakland Raiders. He did his time as a player representative, served on the NFLPA's executive committee and was also elected to the executive council of the AFL-CIO, one of the most powerful labour unions in the United States.

You can argue that baseball, basketball and the NFL have all had their struggles, even undergone near-crippling work stoppages. That's true. But Fehr, Hunter and Upshaw have maintained enough trust to stay in office and develop new cash streams, some of which have come in partnership with club owners.

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Not only that, all three are paid less than the $2.15-million Saskin is scheduled to receive this year for being on leave.

Finding the right non-hockey executive director won't be easy, especially if the right candidate is a woman. But this is a critical time in the history of the NHLPA and the search needs to be beyond meticulous, since the last guys to run the show turned the place into a hornet's nest.

Stepping into that chaos would scare away some candidates, as it should. Others would be drawn to the challenge. A long look should go to those who can bring something fresh to an organization that has lost its faith and blown its credibility.

The names being mentioned for executive director are all well and good. But it's the ones not being talked about that should peak the curiosity of the NHLPA membership. Besides, what more is there to lose?

Possible successors with a hockey connection

If Ted Saskin is removed as its executive director, the National Hockey League Players' Association would have to strike a search committee to find a successor. Some possible candidates:

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Ian Penny: A long-time associate counsel of the NHLPA, the labour lawyer from New York joined the union in the spring of 2000 as an associate counsel to replace Jeff Citron on the labour side. His responsibilities steadily increased over the past seven years and he now is the front man for player grievances against the league or a club.

Mike Gillis: A former NHL player who successfully sued Alan Eagleson for damages as a result of a disability claim that the disgraced former NHLPA executive director made on his behalf, Gillis has a no-nonsense reputation and might be able to galvanize a union that, for too long, has been characterized by large amounts of indifference.

Mike Liut: The former goaltender turned player agent briefly worked for the NHLPA before being part of the stampede for the exits that characterized parts of the Bob Goodenow regime. Liut graduated from the Detroit College of Law in 1995 and is now part of the high-powered Octagon Athlete Representation group.

Anton Thun: A law graduate of the University of Western Ontario and now runs MFive Sports out of Thornhill, Ont. He was a candidate for the position in 1991, when Goodenow received the job. His client list includes Glen Murray and Mike Ricci.

Neil Sheehy: After graduating from Harvard, Sheehy played nine NHL seasons before getting his law degree from the Mitchell College of Law. He's a player agent in Minneapolis and part of the group that advised Chris Chelios et al how to proceed when allegations about the Saskin hiring were first made.

Steve Bartlett: He runs the Sports Consulting Group out of Pittsfield, N.Y. He has represented players since 1984 and has been a certified NHL player agent since 1996. Like Thun, he was also a candidate for the executive director position that eventually went to Goodenow.

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Brian McDonald: The chief operating officer of Siskinds, a law firm based in London, Ont., McDonald played in the Ontario Hockey League for three seasons and went on to become a head scout and assistant general manager with the Colorado Avalanche. He might be just the sort of "outsider" with no official ties to either side in the Saskin affair who would be acceptable to both sides.

The Globe and Mail

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