Sportspinions: Kelly dismissal no good for NHL

By Francis “Jeff” Guanezo

Hockey fans, prepare for the worst. Another National Hockey League strike looms. The hope for a new collective bargaining agreement died recently with Paul Kelly’s dismissal from the NHL Players’ Association.

Kelly was your hockey saviour. As the executive director of the nhlpa, he was asked to save hockey from another work stoppage by securing a relationship with the nhl. His friendship with nhl commissioner Gary Bettman, though terribly close, helped maintain the fat cheques hockey brats receive every month. Those same brats gave him the boot.

There are countless rumours about why Kelly was fired, ranging from privacy breaches to Kelly punishing employees who had filed complaints against the union. The nhlpa itself hasn’t commented much on the matter, so the public won’t know the facts of this perplexing case unless the union publishes an internal audit. Regardless, the reasons for Kelly’s dismissal from the union are quite trivial. His termination was a good show of vigilante office politics and hidden agendas, rather than union consensus. With the union seemingly influenced by old-fashioned hardliners, egotistical retirees and uneducated hockey brats, there is certainly no room for Kelly’s presence, especially now that Buzz Hargrove patrols the union halls.

Hargrove, who just retired as president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, is assisting the NHLPA. His views of strong-willed unions would not survive a room full of capitalists — a bad sign when dealing with nhl owners.

What the union needs is the charisma and compromise of Kelly. Kelly was instrumental in convincing Bettman that hockey needed a European transfer agreement to thrive in other markets and open new opportunities for players both in Europe and North America. He was able to talk to Bettman easily.

Hargrove, on the other hand, is too confrontational. For him, compromise is taboo. His history as caw president and involvement in violent labour disputes certainly does not help the current situation. His appointment to the position of union ombudsman is foolish, given the precarious nhl/nhlpa relations.

The union has eliminated whatever credibility they had left to convince the nhl of their willingness to bargain. Kelly was the one to finally co-operate with the league in a close but businesslike manner. He would have been able to forge a labour agreement that reflected the players’ contribution to the sport and maximized profit for club owners. Kelly committed himself to creating a greater partnership between the two organizations, but instead the union chose to be headstrong with a hardliner and an army of morons leading the warpath.

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