SUN Hockey Pool

Cracking at the seams

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Ted Saskin's brief and tumultuous reign as executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association ended in a storm of controversy, excess and paranoia.

While it finally took a police investigation into the apparent monitoring of player e-mails to force Saskin out, concern over his leadership, his exorbitant contract, his indulgent hirings and his tap-dancing of protocol have been under attack, almost from the day he was hired under murky circumstances.

How did it all go so wrong, so quickly for Saskin, who played the part of momentary hero after being one of the two parties who negotiated an end to the NHL lockout?

Those who know best say the problems began with the manner in which former executive director, Bob Goodenow, was fired and paid off to be quiet. That set off an argument between NHLPA president Trevor Linden and fellow executive member Arturs Irbe.

"Ted and Linden bulldozed their way thought that," a source said yesterday. "Bob was fired, Ted was hired, a series of question needed to be answered but nobody answered them."

That began the lonely fight for Trent Klatt, the former NHL player and NHLPA executive member, who became the first of what later became known as a dissident player group that included Chris Chelios, Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Schneider.

The player himself with much to answer for is Linden, who was Saskin's right-hand man negotiating an end to the lockout.

It was Linden, who along with Saskin, pushed Goodenow aside, and forced his firing. It was Linden, who negotiated a contract with Saskin that would pay him $1.9 million U.S. in the first year, making him the highest paid union leader in professional sport -- along with perks such a golf club membership, a $1,700 a month car allowance, a $100,000 raise annually -- bypassing the NHLPA's constitution in the process.

In fact, when the executive committee needed to research its own constitution to find out if the hiring of Saskin was being done above board, it turned to Saskin and former player Mike Gartner to do the fact finding.

Saskin returned by saying all was well.

Upon taking over the union, Saskin made some unusual and expensive appointments. He hired neophyte lawyer Stu Grimson, the former player, at a non entry-level salary of $250,000 a year.

This is the same Grimson, who upon representing Chris Simon in a league hearing this weekend, referred to Simon as a first-time offender. Never mind this is Simon's sixth suspension.

Saskin hired avid support Vincent Damphousse for another quarter of a million, ostensibly for part-time work at the Toronto office.

Saskin was paying senior director, Ken Kim, who is also on paid leave of absence now, more than $700,000 a year. And Goodenow's former lieutenant, Ian Pulver, not a Saskin man, was paid handsomely to leave the PA and keep his mouth shut.

A story was told yesterday that best captured Saskin's ability to lead. When a player complaint came his way, rather than deal with the issues of the complaint, he was more interested in knowing who was doing the complaining.

"He worked for the players," one player said yesterday, "and he acted as though we worked for him. More than anything, what you had here was an abuse of power."

At least, Steve Larmer, the former player, had the dignity to resign his PA position and express his disgust.

But why didn't Gartner, who purports to be a man of honour? Why did it take until very recently for the inexperienced Grimson to distance himself from Saskin?

And why did certain player agents buddy up to Saskin for their own benefit rather than the benefit of the players at large?

"The whole history of the NHLPA is about abuse of power," one player said. "This is a chance for us to start over. This is a chance for us to get it right."


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