Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Morrison delivers his insights into the world of hockey, on and off the ice.
Forging a strong, working relationship is Kelly's challenge
Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | 01:03 PM ET
By Scott Morrison
Barring the unforeseen - and given the many twists and turns involving the union over the past couple of years, an appearance by the unforeseen is always a possibility - the NHL Players' Association will in the next week elect lawyer Paul Kelly as its new executive director.
By all accounts, Kelly is an excellent choice, too. His recommendation is the result of an exhaustive search that involved the players and a professional search company.
Kelly, of course, was the assistant U.S. attorney who helped take down former NHLPA boss Alan Eagleson, so he clearly has an understanding of how flawed the union once was and is undoubtedly aware of how flawed it became again. He was also a noted trial lawyer, who represented Marty McSorley in his infamous assault trail in Vancouver six years ago, so he can clearly pick a hockey player out of, ah, lineup. Needless to say, Kelly has a substantial list of other non-hockey related credentials. So he is a well-qualified choice.
The challenge that awaits Kelly, if all goes according to plan, will be an interesting one to say the very least. He is taking over an association that was divided, confused and angry emerging from the lockout, split because of how the labour dispute was settled and further separated by how Bob Goodenow was ousted and Ted Saskin took control.
But all of that is history. Players have shown signs of having learned how apathy allowed control of their association to be taken from them. Anyway, now it is all about moving forward under new leadership and what that leads to in terms of a relationship with the NHL.
It was hardly a secret that Saskin and the NHL had a good relationship. The players - especially the so-called dissidents - would call it cozy. Too cozy. Whether the relationship that developed compromised the players' position and power is, well, for them to decide and especially to guard against in the future.
Suffice to say, they will be expecting a different relationship between Kelly and the NHL.
The key, though, is to also not be spoiling for a fight just because of what they perceive and know to have gone on in the past. Don't be afraid to engage in a fight, of course, but don't make starting one the mandate of the "new" union. What this league and its players don't need, not after they have already closed down the business for a year, is another cold war (though by appointing Jeremy Jacobs as the new chairman of the board it would seem the NHL owners were anticipating the arrival of a hard-ass to run the union, so they put one in place themselves just in case).
It seems the players understand they are not any time soon going to lose the salary cap they agreed to during the lockout. That universe is not going to change. If there is a common complaint for the players, though, it is a feeling that they don't have a meaningful enough say in what is termed a "partnership" arrangement with the NHL. If they are working together to generate revenues, the players insist, then they want to be a part of the decision making that goes into growing those revenues.
In many ways, they are right. On the flip side, the league might argue that the leadership void that has existed over the past year has prevented them from being as active in the running of the business. Whatever the case, the players should have a voice when it comes to making decisions that involve growing the game and the revenues, things such as U.S. television deals and marketing plans, or even when it comes to deciding markets for expansion. Theirs shouldn't be a bigger or louder voice, but they should be a responsible part of that process.
That is the challenge for Kelly, to either be able to negotiate that input if it truly doesn't exist while we are involved in the current CBA, or to re-open the agreement after the end of next season and get it as part of a new pact. In the end, it's all about forging a relationship, a solid working relationship.
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About the Author
Scott Morrison, the recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fameís 2006 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, has been covering hockey for 25 years. The Toronto native began his career at the Toronto Sun in 1979. After spending more than 11 years as a hockey writer and columnist at the paper, Morrison became Sports Editor in 1991 and led the section to being named one of North America's top-ten sports sections in 1999 - the first sports section in Canada to receive the AP Sports Editors North American Award. Scott, a former two-term president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, joined Rogers Sportsnet in 2001 as Managing Editor, Hockey, and is currently both a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada and a columnist for CBC.ca.
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