Less than a week after the hockey lockout came to an end, Bob Goodenow stepped down as the executive director of the NHL Players' Association on Thursday.

Ted Saskin, formerly the NHLPA senior director and the union's lead negotiator on the new labour deal, was named Goodenow's replacement.

"Today's change, my stepping down and Ted stepping up, is a step for the future," Goodenow told reporters at a news conference, adding that "there's just a tremendous amount of upside to be achieved" with Saskin as the new head of the union.

Goodenow, who had less than three years remaining on his contract, revealed he made the decision after consulting with the union's executive committee.

He also confirmed that there was always going to be a transition in union leadership, and that he just "accelerated" the process.

Saskin thanked Goodenow for his 15 years of service to the NHLPA.

"What Bob has done to the organization and for the players has been absolutely outstanding, and we're all tremendously appreciative of it," said Saskin.

Added Saskin: "Obviously there's some very large shoes to fill in terms of the job that's been done, and there's a lot to be done in the future.

"I'm looking forward to all the challenges associated with working on behalf of the players in this new environment, and at the same time optimistic that there's a lot we can do in the future."

Goodenow said he had no immediate plans.

Goodenow's resignation comes on the heels of the players voting last Thursday to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement that most critics believe favoured the owners.

The backbone of the new CBA features a $39-million US salary cap and a 54-per cent linkage to league revenue, two issues that Goodenow was steadfastly opposed to when the NHL lockout began last September.

The deal also includes a 24-per-cent salary rollback on all existing player contracts.

"I believe the agreement can and will work well for both sides," Goodenow said in defending the deal.

The league's board of governors unanimously approved the deal 24 hours after the players ratified it, ending the longest labour dispute in the history of professional sports after more than 10 months.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who butted heads with Goodenow over labour negotiations during two NHL lockouts in the past decade, had warm words for his old sparring partner.

"I have always respected Bob's tenacity, passion and professionalism, and I wish him well in his future endeavours. We congratulate Ted and look forward to working with him," Bettman said in a statement.

Formerly a player agent, Goodenow joined the NHLPA as deputy executive in 1990, and became the organization's executive director in 1992, succeeding Alan Eagleson (who had the job since 1967).

Prior to joining the NHLPA, the 52-year-old Goodenow was an attorney in Detroit where he practiced in the areas of general, corporate and commercial law, labour law and athlete representation.

During his tenure as the NHLPA chief, Goodenow represented the players as their chief negotiator in collective bargaining with the NHL.

Goodenow's first major action, the players' strike on the eve of the 1992 Stanley Cup playoffs, established his reputation as an energetic, militant advocate of players' interests.

Under Goodenow's stewardship, salaries escalated and players made substantial gains in areas pertaining to free agency and salary arbitration following the end of the 1994-95 NHL lockout.

With Goodenow as the head of the NHLPA, player salaries rose 250 per cent, from an average of $276,000 in 1990-91 to roughly $1.8 million in 2003-04.

NHLPA president Trevor Linden had glowing words of praise for Goodenow in the statement announcing his resignation.

"Every NHL player has benefited enormously from Bob's leadership and dedication. He has been a tireless advocate for the players and he dramatically improved the players' situation in every respect. Bob built the NHLPA into a first-class organization and we are all very grateful to him."

Still, Goodenow had his critics.

Many players, angry that the entire 2004-05 season was wiped out over the labour dispute, accused Goodenow of brainwashing them and leading them into a battle that yielded little results and ended up alienating fans.

Some also claimed most of the players were in the dark during negotiations and did not know the "real story."

Recently, New York Rangers star Jaromir Jagr said the union made a big mistake by fighting the salary cap, and Detroit Red Wings goaltender Manny Legace, a union representative, called the past year "a farce" and that they wasted a lot of money for nothing.

"Absolutely not," answered Goodenow when asked if player backlash influenced his decision to quit.