On Monday, August 31, 2009, the NHLPA announced that its executive board voted “overwhelmingly” to dismiss Paul Kelly as executive director. The NHLPA executive board, which is made up of 30 players from each club, has announced that Ian Penny will serve as the interim executive director. The executive board also announced that it has established a committee to find a permanent replacement.
Kelly, a former U.S. prosecutor in Massachusetts who led the NHLPA for almost two years, will be remembered as maintaining a good relationship with the Commissioner, perhaps to the determent of his career with the NHLPA. While the executive board did not announce the basis for the termination, it is widely believed that Kelly fell out of favor with the union for failing to zealously advocate for player issues. There have also been allegations that Kelly improperly read a transcript of a private players meeting. The executive board is believed to be seeking a strong pro-union leader for negotiations relating to the next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA is set to expire after the 2010-2011.
Players have been ordered not to discuss the termination of Kelly, but at least some players have reported to Gordon McIntyre of faceoff.com that the lack of strong leadership is troubling:
“Again, I’m not supposed to comment, but this situation is in need of some dire direction and leadership,” veteran Canuck center Ryan Johnson said when pressed to address the more general question of the revolving door at the top of the association. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure that out.”
The next executive director will face significant challenges. First, the finicky NHLPA has not had the luxury of long-standing leadership. Kelly’s replacement will be the fourth executive director in five years. Second, with the current CBA set to expire after the 2010-11 season, preliminary labor negotiations, which everyone expects to be heated, are on the horizon. The union also lost its financial mastermind, Bob Lindquist, who resigned in the wake of Kelly’s dismissal.
While the NHL and its labor attorneys are identifying issues and creating negotiating strategies, the NHLPA will be collecting resumes. Since the 2009-2010 salary floor will be higher than the post-lockout salary cap, look for the league to fight hard to keep player salaries under control, especially in light of the current economic crisis and the failing financial health of a number of franchises. The last labor dispute didn’t go so well for the players, and while the sport probably cannot sustain another labor disruption, the union will need to act fast in order to fully protect its members’ interests.
Dan Canavan is an attorney at Updike, Kelly & Spellacy in Hartford, Connecticut. He has appeared as an on-air guest with regard to the NHL and the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings on CBC Radio’s World Report. His analysis and commentary have also been published in various media outlets including The National Post, faceoff.com, as well as the Sports Litigation Alert , a leading sports industry publication which is circulated throughout the United States. Dan can be contacted at email@example.com or 860-548-2672.