Whoever becomes the next executive director of the NHL Players' Association must do so without fear of repercussions, former union vice-president and player Vincent Damphousse, acknowledged Tuesday.
Damphousse spoke one day after Paul Kelly was overwhelmingly dumped by the NHLPA's 30-member executive board, telling The Canadian Press that Kelly was a casualty of "a kind of paranoia in the group."
"For the new guy coming in, the players need to let him work," Damphousse said. "There was maybe too much leeway before and now it's like the guy is in handcuffs. He's got to be able to work with confidence."
Damphousse, who played for Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and San Jose during an 18-year NHL career, was also the director of business affairs for the NHLPA but left before Kelly replaced Ted Saskin in 2007.
The players' association is in search of its fourth union head in five years.
Ian Penny, the union's general counsel, will replace Kelly on an interim basis.
Bob Goodenow, a hard-nosed negotiator, resigned in 2005 following a disagreement with the players that resulted in the introduction of a salary cap, which ended the 2004-05 lockout.
Saskin, who had close relationships with the league, took the job from Goodenow but was quickly dismissed over allegations he had been monitoring players' confidential emails.
Kelly appeared to fall somewhere in the middle and Damphousse said the players are now looking for a return to the Goodenow style as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011 approaches.
"Now a lot of players and even people within the office want someone who is like Bob a bit — more of a iron fist and being confrontational with the league," said Damphousse. "I feel it's much better to work with the league."
While a reason wasn't given, Kelly's position as union boss came into question in the summer during a review of his leadership in which players voiced their concerns about him, according to NHLPA interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, the former president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
Damphousse said Kelly's situation was hampered too many disgruntled members.
"You can't have watchdogs here and there looking over your shoulder — it's not a good environment," said Damphousse. "I understand the guys are on their guard, but you can't be overbearing with the guy."