Union battle could harm dressing room

LANCE HORNBY and MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

At a time when they should focus on their final two exhibition games for the coming National Hockey League season, the Maple Leaf and Detroit Red Wing dressing rooms could be split by the issue of Ted Saskin's election to head of the players union.

The names of Leafs' Ed Belfour and Eric Lindros were among 50 players attached to a charge filed earlier this week with the National Labor Relations Board in the U.S., alleging "illegal activities" by Saskin and Trevor Linden, president of the Players Association. One of the loudest critics of Saskin and Linden has been Toronto tough guy Tie Domi, who added his vocal support to the 50 yesterday, even though it appears to put him in conflict with friend and team captain Mats Sundin, a quiet booster of Saskin.

"I wish it hadn't come to this," Domi said of the rancour. "People ask: 'Why this, why now (after the lockout) when everything is done?' Because we lost the season and we don't know where the escrow (to be released by the league pending revenue in 2005-06) is going."

The main dissidents, led by retired Los Angeles Kings' forward Trent Klatt and Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, want the NLRB to examine the process of Saskin replacing Bob Goodenow as executive director, claiming improper voting methods were used by the executive committee during the vote. Saskin originally was confirmed during a controversial conference call earlier this month that wrapped up in confusion at 2 a.m.

"The bottom line is that it's nothing personal against Ted," Lindros said yesterday as the Leafs prepared to travel to play Detroit tonight. "We all know what Ted has done for our organization in the past and we're thankful for it.

"It's just that the process that took place was not, in many eyes, up to standard. If we clear it up and do the proper procedures then Ted's probably back in there anyway."

Belfour said he was convinced to add his name after speaking to former Chicago teammate Chris Chelios. Saskin, who has called the allegations "baseless", met with Chelios and the Detroit Red Wings yesterday as part of a planned tour of teams.

"It was very enlightening," said goalie Manny Legace, one of his union's biggest critics during the lockout. "Hopefully, (Saskin) does that with all the teams."

A team-by-team vote called by Saskin in the wake of initial objections to the conference call is now underway, though the accounting has been slowed because of training camp. Though the rebel Leafs gave the impression their team is going to vote in favour of a review, Sundin chose his words carefully.

"I haven't signed any papers yet," he sais of the NLLB file. "I hear different information from different people what the whole process was and if the whole process was done right or not."

He doesn't think it will distract from the start of the season, nor does he intend to let it.

"Since camp started, there has been no discussion about it in our dressing room," he said. "We're just focused on trying to be ready on Wednesday."

There are 37 votes at stake in the coming ballot, those of the 30 team player representatives as directed by their constituents and seven members of the executive board, with Saskin requiring a simple majority. Retired board members Klatt and Vince Damphousse (a Saskin man) also are being allowed to vote.

"I didn't think it was a good deal for the players and I still don't," Legace said. "Lot's of guys thought I was right -- they just didn't want me to say it in the papers. Now we have to move on. We can't just sweep this under the carpet.It's kind of a weird situation."


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