SUN Hockey Pool

Battle for control of NHLPA heats up

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:32 PM ET

The battle for control of NHL Players Association is an all-out war.

Already messy after the firing of executive director Paul Kelly last month, the union took another hit yesterday when interim head Ian Penny called it quits because he feels he’s been “constructively dismissed” by the four-man review committee set up to look at the union’s operations.

Frustrated by the committee -- which includes former NHLer Chris Chelios, Rob Blake, Nik Lidstrom and Mark Recchi -- Penny decided to walk away rather than continue to try to fight what’s become an ugly battle at the union’s head office in Toronto.

Sources say players are furious and are “demanding answers” because not only did Penny step down, the NHLPA’s advisory board of Steve Larmer, Dan O’Neill and Ron Lloyd are also gone. Lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo also resigned and he might not be the only one to walk away.

“There has been an orchestrated coup behind the scene. The review committee was authorized with a mandate to investigate Kelly’s firing,” said a league source. “(The review committee) sent a memo to the advisory board to say board members are prohibited from contacting player reps and asked player reps not to incur any travel expense for business.

“They also asked (ombudsman) Buzz Hargrove and told Penny to severely restrict his reach and power. A lot of people believe the review committee has overstepped its boundaries. The situation is just awful.”

Penny sent an e-mail to NHLPA members last Friday indicating Chelios was undermining his authority and accused of him trying to take over the union. There is a strong belief that Chelios would like to bring Kelly back once a review is complete.

Penny called the environment “poisonous” and maintained Chelios had people watching him in the office. Penny cited an example of an e-mail he received from Chelios demanding why he’d met with five staff members and what they were talking about.

“Ian Penny informed the NHLPA staff and the NHLPA Executive Board earlier that it is his position he has been constructively dismissed as Interim Executive Director of the NHLPA and can no longer work in the present circumstances. Effective today, Ian Penny is no longer employed by the NHLPA,” said the union in a statement.

“There have been inaccurate media reports circulating that the NHLPA has suspended operations. The NHLPA staff continues to work very hard on behalf of the players in all areas of the Association’s business and will continue to do so going forward. The NHLPA will make no further comment today on this internal matter.”

The players were caught off guard by the news, but Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a VP on the bargaining committee in the 2004 lockout, supports an investigation and a housecleaning.

“From the information I have they did the right thing (firing Kelly) and from the information they had as well,” said Alfredsson. “I don’t think you could wait to do something as well. Two years go by, the CBA will be up, and we’ll have nothing. It’s time to right the ship.

“I’m not really sure what’s going on, but it’s in transition right now and it needs to be straightened out. We have people working on it and steps were taken because of everything that happened with (Ted) Saskin. He breached the trust of some people and now it has started all over again. The committee to find the next guy to run it has an important job to do.”

So, where do we go from here?

“A lot of players are vowing to take control back of the union,” said one league source.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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