Paul Kelly was "shocked" and felt "extreme sadness" when he walked out of a Chicago hotel early Monday as the now-former executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association.
Speaking on his unanimous ouster as the union boss of the NHLPA, Kelly told Toronto radio station AM640 that he was very anxious going into the room to face the NHLPA's 30-member executive board, made up of player representatives from each NHL club.
"I was concerned and apprehensive, just based on how things evolved in the prior hours," he admitted. "When you lose a role, particularly one that you love — and I did love this one because of the incredible respect I have for the players and the game — when you are being ask to move on and leave that role, it hurts."
Kelly wouldn't go into specifics on why he was terminated, saying instead, "the players association are really a remarkable group people, and I hold no animosity towards any of them.
"It was my moral obligation, and I can honestly say that every action that I took from the first day that I got the [job] was designed to protect the players' interest to make sure that the [they] were getting their fair share, that they weren't being manipulated or having their rights violated," he said.
While he wouldn't single out anyone from the union, Kelly said changes to the constitution — where there is an "abundance of checks and balances" — made his job increasingly difficult.
"I don't know that I fully appreciated when I took the job some of the changes that would be faced just by that structure."
Some of those changes include a full board of 30 with 25 votes needed to pass any legislation. There is also an ombudsman who has six separate former player reps working directly for him. Additionally, there is a general counsel that reports directly to the executive board.
Within that structure, Kelly's position as union boss came into question in the summer during a review in which players voiced their concerns about his leadership, according to NHLPA interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, the former president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
Hargrove took over the position after retired NHL player Eric Lindros quit as ombudsman earlier this year. Reports have suggested that Lindros was involved in the campaign to remove Kelly.
"I think [there are] well-intentioned people who are critiquing your every move, your every comment, your every action and second-guessing it. I don't say that in a malicious way, but it presents challenges which frankly nobody in a similar role, whether you're [former baseball union head] Don Fehr, or [late NFLPA head] Gene Upshaw or [NBA executive director] Bill Hunter, or even [former NHLPA boss] Bob Goodenow really ever had to face."
Kelly also addressed the anonymous letter sent, reportedly by someone close to the union, to certain reporters regarding his work and character.
The letter was delivered prior to a June meeting in Las Vegas, where a committee was formed to review Kelly's leadership.
"I wasn't surprised by it," said Kelly, a Boston lawyer. "Actually, I saw it a few weeks ago, [not] at the time that it was sent to various press people. When you read something that's been sent to a journalist which is not factual, it hurts, but look, it comes with the territory.
"I was a prosecutor for many, many years and people used to take shots at me all the time, usually [by] bad guys in an effort to discredit me or scare me off, so I've developed some broad shoulders over time."
Ian Penny, the union's general counsel, will assume Kelly's portfolio until a search committee finds a permanent replacement.
Kelly held the position for less than two years. He succeeded Ted Saskin in 2007 after Saskin was dismissed over allegations he had been monitoring players' confidential emails.