Maybe “shocked” was too harsh a word.
But Wayne Primeau did admit being somewhat surprised at the news that Paul Kelly had been given the boot as the grand poohbah of the NHL players’ association.
“A little bit,” Primeau acknowledged yesterday after scrimmaging with a number of his Maple Leaf teammates.
Join the club, Wayne.
Like you, many of us in the hockey world were stunned at the announcement that Kelly had been axed in the wee hours Monday morning by the union’s executive committee.
So Kelly is gone, just 21 months after being handpicked by this same union to replace the disgraced Ted Saskin.
Cue the P.R. nightmare.
From the moment the decision came down, critics began labelling the union a “rudderless ship,” claiming in-fighting within the organization between the Kelly supporters and the hard liners would once again split the union.
Reached last night, Matt Stajan strongly rejected that notion.
Stajan, the Maple Leafs player rep, joined Mike Komisarek, Andrew Ference and Brad Boyes on a committee mandated to examine the state of the union office, a process that included interviewing staff. The fact that such a committee was put together in the first place is proof that concerns about Kelly have been swirling for a while now.
At some point today, Stajan plans to meet with Primeau and other Maple Leafs to explain why Kelly was the door. Across the league, the other 29 player reps are planning similar get-togethers.
Let the educational process begin.
“This is not just something we did overnight,” Stajan told Sun Media, having just arrived back from the Chicago meetings. “We could have done the easy thing and keep Paul on. But this is not about public perception. This is about making our union stronger going forward.
“We are taking some heat right now, sure. But we did our research and the guys will understand the reasoning once the relevant info comes out.
“I can honestly say I left Chicago feeling we did the right thing for our membership.”
There is no reason to doubt Stajan. He is a pretty straight shooter.
Having said that, the question remains: Why did the player reps not bring the info to their teammates before such a huge decision was made regarding leadership?
“That was an option the board members had,” said union ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, who also put together a report for the player reps. “But given the findings presented to them and the ensuing debate, they took action.”
Not everyone was pleased at how quick the trigger was pulled.
“The least they could have done is told us what they were thinking first instead of just going ahead and pulling the plug,” said one prominent NHL player who requested anonymity.
Rumblings of discontent over Kelly emerged during the union’s meetings in Las Vegas back in June.
According to some dissidents, there were concerns even before that.
Suggestions of Kelly’s shortcomings have been flowing fast and furious. The most popular ones? That he didn’t treat office staff properly. That he was too close to NHL kingpins Gary Bettman and Bill Daly. That he wasn’t close enough to the players. That he wasn’t enough of a hard ass. That there were business issues during his tenure.
Ian Penny, staff counsel for the union, has been named interim head of the NHLPA. According to some reports, Penny recently was awarded a new contract without Kelly’s consent.
“Not true,” insisted one union official. “Paul was aware of it. (The contract) was tweaked after (Kelly) looked it over.”
Whatever the case, here’s the bottom line.
Alan Eagleson, the union’s first kingpin, ended up behind bars.
His successor, Bob Goodenow, was ousted during the 2004-05 lockout.
Enter Saskin, whose tenure was short but not sweet.
And now Kelly is history too.
With hard liners like Hargrove in the mix, no wonder fans are fretting about yet another potential work stoppage.
How devastating would that be?