Wake Up Boys
Nothing's been done that couldn't be un-done.
Well, not quite. Glenn Healy, once Paul Kelly's right hand man with the NHL Players Association, has returned to the world of broadcasting in the wake of Kelly's bizarre dismissal two weeks ago. That ship has sailed.
Otherwise, if the NHLPA wanted to reinstate Kelly — more specifically, if the player membership wanted it done — it's still possible.
It's a bit pie in the sky at the moment. But the coup artists and plotters that managed to oust Kelly after a year of planning that began in Chicago in August, 2008, continued in Vegas last June and came to a head in the Windy City last month, have so far failed to consolidate their new-found power after the decapitation of the entire union leadership.
Ian Penny, who managed to wrest a new five-year contract out of the union last June as general counsel and then completed his remarkable year by suddenly succeeding Kelly on an interim basis, remains a cloak-and-dagger figure, an individual of little or no standing in the hockey world and one as of yet unable to explain publicly how and why his predecessor was canned or how he plans to lead the organization. Boston defenceman Andrew Ference has emerged as a ringleader in the ouster of Kelly, but the best defence he's been able to offer up so far is that the players fired Kelly through a secret ballot.
Well, nobody ever said that wasn't the case.
Otherwise, it would seem more and more players are questioning the details of Kelly's suspicious 4 a.m. firing, and their agents are voicing those concerns publicly. Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry, two of the biggest names in the game, are urging players to ask questions and find out what happened. Barry's involvement is particularly important since he used to work for the union.
One of Brisson's most famous clients, Sidney Crosby, chimed in today by saying all the players deserve a "good explanation" of what transpired in Chicago.
Chris Chelios, who was in the meeting that ended Kelly's tenure, is now saying that the entire process was at the very least "questionable." Former NHLPA executive Vincent Damphousse has spoken publicly about the "paranoia" in the union. Players familiar with the entire episode now understand that Kelly was under internal siege for a year or more, that his fractious relationship with former ombudsman Eric Lindros may have been his undoing and that the "office review" that skewered him was a rather clumsy attempt to assassinate his professional reputation. That said, it worked.
Despite his denials, Lindros is still very much a part of this picture. He certainly knew the details of the evidence that was used against Kelly in last month's meetings in Chicago even though he hadn't been working for the union for six months. Asked by text message if he intended to return to a position with the union in the near future, he responded, "I have no intentions."
If there was a groundswell of support for Kelly, could he come back? It's theoretically possible, but unlikely. The fact he was axed under the flimsiest of accusations that the plotters have tried to turn into Watergate doesn't change the fact that he was fired, and it's not easy to go back. Moreover, the dreadful bureaucratic structure of the union will make it impossible for any future executive director to lead the NHLPA without worrying about his job and authority every day.
But at the very least there should be yet another internal investigation of union activities and practices, something similar to that carried out by respected Toronto lawyer Sheila Bloch after the Saskin mess. Players will roll their eyes at that suggestion, but if they're smart, they're starting to understand that a very small cabal of players, retired players and suits — the names of some of whom they wouldn't even know — managed to have their leader canned without asking the wider membership what it thought.
All the player reps had to do was wait a few weeks for the players to assemble for training camp and it would have been easy to canvas opinion and develop a real consensus.
But the plotters didn't want that to happen. That should tell you something. They saw an opportunity and seized it.
Players in general couldn't give a fig about their union. But they'll get their backs up if they think they've been hoodwinked, and that feeling is starting to spread.