Saskin's reign under fire

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

A petition demanding the resignation of Ted Saskin, executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, is being circulated by NHL players.

"Fourteen teams do not support Ted and want him to resign," Chris Chelios told The Toronto Sun yesterday. "It's just a matter of time before we get the necessary signatures.

"The PA is operating in a climate of secrecy. We cannot get the answers to any of our questions. Players don't have access to information. One thing a union has to be is transparent."

Chelios did say if the Red Wings voted on Saskin's leadership, the team vote would be 19-1 against the first-year executive.

SIDE DEALS

The latest issue threatening Saskin's short but stormy time in office are apparent "side deals" signed between the PA and the NHL after the lockout ended that players neither agreed to, were asked to vote on or were informed of.

Early in the season, Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson asked Saskin if he could see the contentious letters of agreement. According to Roloson, then a player rep in Minnesota, Saskin denied the existence of such letters. After that, he denied Roloson had asked to see such documents. Saskin has since changed his public stance, admitting the deals have been made.

"People are asking questions, getting answers," Ted Saskin, who claims the mistrust among players is "agent-created folly."

Yesterday, corroborating sources confirmed there are 30 different secret side agreements to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified last summer that NHL players have not been informed about.

"Ted never mentioned any of them until he got caught," Chelios said.

"If we provide false and misleading information to our clients, we can be decertified by the PA," said a player agent who requested anonymity. "If they provide false and misleading information, can we decertify them? They watch us. Who watches them?"

"There was a reasonable explanation for everything we've done," Saskin said. "In every collective bargaining agreement, there are adjustments you have to make."

The climate of mistrust between dissident players and Saskin is at an all-time high -- which is rather remarkable considering this same association lived through the Alan Eagleson years. Much of the rancour over Eagleson, however, came after the fact. From his own clumsily orchestrated high-priced hiring, Saskin's leadership has come under question.

None of this existed under Bob Goodenow's autocratic leadership, but Goodenow's main battles came with the league and with media, not with his own players.

"The players need access to information," said Steve Larmer, who resigned recently from the NHLPA and wrote a scathing public departure letter on the way out the door. "You have to ask yourself, who is working for whom? The PA isn't answerable to anyone.

"As far as I know, there are 30 side deals. I think we have the right to know what's in those letters, don't you?"

Among the issues players are most angry about relates to salary cap and escrow money. According to league projections, next year's cap -- based on players receiving 54% of revenues -- should range from a low of $30 million to a high of $46 million.

What Saskin is proposing lowers the cap by $3 million at both top and bottom, to a high of $43 million and a low of $27 million.

"That's taking $90 million out of the market place for players," Chelios said. "That lowers the market for everyone. That's going to hurt our marquee players. It's contradicting the deal we agreed to."

Twice, Saskin has scheduled votes on the altered salary cap form and twice the vote has been cancelled.

"He keeps putting it off," said one former player. "Because for him, if he loses, it's the equivalent of a vote of non-confidence."

Chelios would like to hire a legal team to investigate PA practices, going back to Saskin's back-door hiring. He said players can't go one-on-one with Saskin because "he's far more educated than us, he can dance around any player.

"But he won't talk to our lawyers and he won't talk to our agents. And he continues to lie to us. He just won't answer questions."

Chelios and others also are upset the annual PA meeting has been slated for Whistler, B.C. in July.

"That's the most obscure place you could have it," Chelios said. "Most players won't go. I think he set up to discourage as many people as possible from going."

According to Saskin, the largest attendance at a PA meeting was the previous time it was held at Whistler.


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