Former NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly finally broke his silence yesterday following his firing early Monday morning. In a vicious 24 hours that also witnessed Glenn Healy's resignation, Kelly was forced to defend himself against allegations he misused his office having reputedly been caught reading a confidential transcript from a players meeting.
For his part, Kelly admitted reading the document to the Executive Board meeting that preceded his departure, saying he felt “duty bound” after union members, concerned that the NHLPA constitution was being violated, actively sought his participation.
The meeting, that took place in Las Vegas last June, was apparently conducting union business with the inclusion of the ombudsman, advisory board and players executive board but not with Paul Kelly himself.
Releasing a statement on Thursday, Kelly countered the allegations saying:
“I cannot stand by and allow this false and misleading attack on my character and reputation... I spent almost 10 years as a federal prosecutor, prosecuting numerous cases pertaining to fraud and dishonesty, including one involving a former NHLPA executive director (Alan Eagleson). My personal ethics and reputation are beyond reproach.
“All of these stories, whether anonymous or by those seeking to protect their individual interests, intend to defame my reputation and good name. They not only harm me, but do harm to the reputation of the over 700 hockey players who make our sport the best in the world.
“I take enormous pride and comfort knowing that I always acted in the best interests of the players, including taking affirmative actions required of me based on my obligations to the players and the NHLPA.
“Out of respect for the NHLPA and the players, I will have no further comment at this time regarding my departure. The matter is being discussed by my legal representatives and those of the NHLPA.”
While many may be quick to compare the allegations surrounding Kelly to that which ended the reign of his predecessor Ted Saskin, Kelly's reported breach of privacy was rooted firmly within the business of the union and in accordance with the violation of the NHLPA constitution. Saskin was fired after spearheading an illegal campaign to hack into the personal email accounts of players and agents in May 2007.
Meanwhile in a tumultuous day Glenn Healy stepped down as director of player affairs despite widespread support from within the union.
Stating his position had been undermined by the Office Health Assessment that was reviewed Sunday, Healy also noted that he had become the subject of interim Executive Director Ian Penny's criticism for his outspoken support for Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
In a letter of resignation published yesterday by TSN, Healy said the report:
“...indicated that I have misled the players and do not tell them the full truth. These accusations were made because of comments that I have made to players, in particular about Wayne Gretzky and his contributions and personal sacrifices for the Players' Association. When Wayne Gretzky joined our Group Licensing Agreement in 1992, it made the Players' Association millions of dollars, has allowed the PA to stand on its own, and allowed every player to prosper.
“Ian Penny, your Interim Executive Director and General Counsel, openly disagreed with my defence of Wayne Gretzky and proceeded to openly criticize Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in front of the Executive Board, Advisory Board, Players' Association employees, the Ombudsman, and the great man who started this very association, Ted Lindsay. I would never and have not misled or told any untruths to any player. I cannot sit back and continue to perform my duties when my Players' Association co-workers unjustifiably impugn my credibility in front of the players I represent and fire shots against Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, two of the greatest players in the game, who have benefited every player in this Players' Association.
“Based on what occurred in the Executive Board Meeting in Chicago, including the presentations made, all of which were accepted and endorsed by the Executive Board, my reputation and credibility with the players has been irreparably harmed and compromised. I can no longer continue to move forward believing that I have the trust of the players.”
Healy's resignation came as a blow to both fans and the silent players, many of whom mobilized behind the former cup winning goaltender who was seen as the last remaining progressive member of the NHLPA executive office.
With the mudslinging season leaving the floor now open to candidates, yesterday saw the final instrumental cogs in Kelly's reign pulled out leaving many to fear a return of the hardliners in time for renewed CBA negotiations in 2011.
One report even suggested Bob Goodenow was approached recently to gauge whether the former Executive Director would be interested in the position. Goodenow, who resigned in 2005 following a tentative agreement that led to the end of the last lockout, oversaw three labor stoppages in his 13 years in office.
It is believed Goodenow indicated little interest in a return.
Ian Penny, who has also ruled himself out from the long term position of Executive Director, countered Healy's claims saying his comments were taken “out of context” and that the timing of Healy's resignation was a deliberate “strategy to deflect attention from today's media reports concerning Paul Kelly's conduct.”
Speaking after the fact, Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay, one of the progenitors of the players union, defended Paul Kelly and described the former heads dismissal as “the biggest scam job, execution, that I've ever seen in my life," and the firing as a “crucifixion.”
Lindsay believes the present undercurrent in the NHLPA mimics the era of Alan Eagleson and lamented on the reign of Paul Kelly, particularly his organization of an significant increase in the benefits package proffered to retired players and their families outlined in Damian Cox's hockey blog.
For their part, the players, particularly those members of the Executive Board, are remaining tight lipped and vague to the media while reports of breaches of confidentiality, the rising escrow payments and Kelly's relationship to the league office do the rounds.
With the players looking directionless and the NHLPA's house of cards crumbling, few outside the organization are leaping to its support. Instead many see the recent developments within the association as fundamentally undermining both to its current status and its future hand in CBA negotiations.
While we will have to wait and see who emerges as leading candidates for the job, the increasing soap opera that has been the NHL off season has done little to improve the leagues credibility and his created an atmosphere of uncertainty within its already weary consumer base concerned with the very future of the game.