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Ian Penny will oversee the NHLPA on an interim basis. ((Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) )

The NHL Players' Association confirmed Monday evening that Ian Penny will handle the duties of fired executive director Paul Kelly on an interim basis.

Penny, the union's general counsel, will assume Kelly's portfolio until a search committee finds a permanent replacement.

The NHLPA's 30-member executive board, made up of player representatives from each NHL team, said it voted "overwhelmingly" to remove Kelly after a meeting in Chicago that began Sunday and stretched into the early hours of Monday.

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.

Hargrove participated in the deliberations before a decision was made on Kelly.

'My working relationship with him I would describe as less than great.'— NHLPA interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove on Kelly

"The players were very clear that they did not believe, have confidence in or trusted that he could bring the leadership of the NHLPA together to work as a unified group and work in their best interest," Hargrove told Toronto's sports radio station Fan 590.

There has been talk that Kelly's management style didn't sit well with the union members, a sentiment shared by Hargrove.

"That would be my personal opinion rising out of the report that was given to us this morning by the board on their decision," he said. "That would be about as accurate as any way I could describe it."

The board said in a statement Monday that the decision to fire Kelly was reached after "an in-depth analysis" of the union's operations.

"Following the executive board's review of the overall operation of the NHLPA, it was decided that Paul Kelly should no longer continue to serve as executive director," the board said in a statement. "We appreciate Mr. Kelly's service to our association."

Past NHLPA bosses

  • Alan Eagleson (1967-1991).
  • Bob Goodenow (1991-2005).
  • Ted Saskin (2005-2007).
  • Paul Kelly (2007-2009).

Hargrove, who would like to be part of the selection process in the hiring of a new executive director if asked, gave a mixed review of his dealings with Kelly.

"My [personal] relationship was great," he said. "My working relationship with him I would describe as less than great."

Hargrove refused to go further, leaving open a chance to possibly expand on Kelly at a later date.

"I'm not able to go into that. If I wasn't the confidential ombudsman I would [talk about Kelly]," said Hargrove.

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.

"It was a surprise because I don't really know exactly what's going on," Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn told CBCSports.ca. "I haven't been contacted by [Leafs player representative Matt Stajan]."

The NHLPA said the executive board will assemble a search committee immediately to identify potential candidates for the vacant job.

TSN also reported that Pat Flatley resigned as the NHLPA's assistant director of player affairs immediately after Kelly was fired. Flatley and director of player affairs Glenn Healey had reportedly been in favour of retaining Kelly.

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.

Messages were left for Healey and for Carl Lindros, Eric's father and one-time agent.

With files from The Canadian Press