Union vows to 'stay strong'

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Garnet Exelby insists the players will not fold this time around.

Exelby, one of 30 player reps who played a role in the firing of NHL union boss Paul Kelly in Chicago on Monday, implied yesterday the players caved in to ownership during the ugly lockout of 2004-05.

Now, amid suggestions that Kelly's warm relationship with the league was one of the many factors that led to his dismissal, Exelby vows that the union will have much more resolve and unity when the current collective bargaining agreement dissolves.

"I don't think anyone is planning for a work stoppage," the new Maple Leafs defenceman said. "But we definitely intend to hold together and stay strong."

The NHL's CBA, which brought closure to the lockout four years ago, runs through the 2010-11 season, with the NHLPA having an option to extend it a year beyond that.

"The last time we gave up a lot," Exelby said. "I think it's a fair statement that ownership got what it wanted in the last agreement.

"We definitely have a problem with the escrow issue."

Here is what Exelby is referring to.

When the lockout finally came to its conclusion, the players found themselves annually receiving about 56% of league revenues in their so-called new partnership with the league.

Under the escrow system, a percentage of player salaries are withheld until the end of the season when the league tallies its revenues. Because of the recent global economic woes, there were times last season when more than 20% of a player's salary was withheld.

"We are supposedly sharing the pie with the league, but the players keep paying," Exelby said. "It's almost like the players are being held hostage. And it keeps snowballing. The salaries are good, no doubt, but we are losing 10, 15, 20% of our salaries ... There is no end to it.

"Look at the NBA, for example. They have a cap on escrow of about 8 or 9%."

To be fair, Kelly inherited the escrow-laden CBA when he took the job 21 months ago. But there is a belief that he was not enough of a hard-liner and might not be able to ensure history did not repeat itself during the next set of negotiations.

Maple Leafs player rep Matt Stajan said news of the impending search committee mandated to find Kelly's replacement should come out "in the next three or four weeks."

"We need a strong leader," Exelby said. "We need to find someone who understands we are in charge, someone who understands decisions go through us."

Exelby and fellow newcomer Mike Komisarek remain player reps with their former teams -- Exelby with the Atlanta Thrashers, Komisarek with the Montreal Canadiens -- until those clubs can vote in replacements during the opening of training camps over the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, just one day after Kelly was let go, Bob Lindquist, an accounting consultant and Kelly backer, resigned from the union. On Monday, Pat Flatley, one of Kelly's right-hand men, did the same.

"I believe Paul Kelly was the person I wanted to be associated with in working with (the union) and when he was gone, I didn't want to stay there any longer," Flatley told AM 640 yesterday.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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