NHLPA in need of a cleansing

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 5:09 PM ET

The snakepit that is the National Hockey League Players' Association is once again rife with controversy and dissension.

The baton of supposition gets passed from Alan Eagleson, who went to prison, from Bob Goodenow, who was paid millions by the PA to disappear, from Ted Saskin, whose overt greed cost him his dream job and his reputation, and now to another internal squabble of significant proportions.

This should be a calm time for the Players' Association, even in this recessionary period. This should be a calm time for the leader, Paul Kelly, who did not negotiate the current collective bargaining agreement, which has seen the players flourish in spite of the economic times.

But instead, the very leadership of Kelly is in question, his position being challenged, and there is a deep and disturbing split at the top of Players' Association, which, according to a source, "90% of the players don't even know about."

That is the historical problem with the PA.

It has been more about A than P. It has been too often more about who's in charge rather than who is being represented.

And this latest war, which will result in Kelly having to justify his existence -- as if he's done anything wrong -- in Chicago over the next two days.

From afar, Kelly seems the perfect choice to have succeeded the autocrats and crooks and bullies and criminals who came before him. There is more structure in the association. There is more purpose. There are enlightened views that come closer to giving this previously soulless operation something a hockey fan can actually believe in.

Kelly wants more teams in Canada. He wants to continue player participation in the Olympics. He doesn't think much of any hockey future in Phoenix. He wants to give back to kids hockey and make sure that hockey doesn't become only an elite sport for the wealthy at the minor levels. How do you argue with that?

But the bees are buzzing around him, looking to sting, chasing personal fiefdoms instead of the big picture, which is how the Saskins of the world tripped over themselves in the first place.

Eric Lindros is apparently one of those bees, and what would a Lindros be without some kind of personal agenda situation. Lindros was looking like one of Canada's fastest growing sporting executives when he took on the position of the NHLPA ombudsman not that long ago. He got the gig because he was one of the politicians who did a lot of the work to get Saskin out: That was necessary.

But Lindros and Kelly didn't see eye to eye, which makes Kelly about the millionth person who couldn't work with or get along with Lindros. So Lindros, depending on who is telling the story, either quit his job or was fired. Either way, the parting wasn't pretty.

In the meantime, Buzz Hargrove, he of auto union fame, named to an advisory board position, pretty much took advantage of his position to grab onto Lindros' old job. So at $130,000 a year, he takes over as ombudsman, which is especially nice when there is almost no complaints to deal with. Also on the advisory committee is a man named Ron Pink, a name you might not know.

Pink was an applicant for the job Kelly got. Kelly wasn't necessarily aware of that. So instead of getting the position he applied for, Pink wound up in a watchdog position for the job he didn't get and we're told, still wants.

How do you think he's going to vote on Kelly's future?

In the meantime, without Kelly's approval, the executive committee got PA lawyer Ian Penney a new five-year contract, which is all but Saskin-like in procedure. Penney, you may remember, was the fine PA lawyer who saw nothing wrong with David Frost being certified as a player agent when there was mounting evidence to the contrary. But that's another story.

Bottom line: The players would be foolish to find fault with Kelly. Better to rid themselves of the dissidents and fast.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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