The owners’ lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 National Hockey League season left a lot of fans with a bad taste in their mouths. Many cited the demands of the NHL Players Association as well as the owners as being unreasonable. Who was more responsible for the fiasco is a separate issue. But it’s a fact that the union’s former executive director, Ted Saskin, was not a confidence-builder, least of all among the players he represented. Saskin had been fired in May by a unanimous player representative vote. A group of players, led by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, had accused him winning his job without the proper course of action, and then once in office, teaming up with NHLPA Senior Director Ken Kim (also forced out) to spy on player e-mails and phone calls. But the union now has a new leader and organizational structure.
On October 30, the players’ association unveiled its revised constitution. It’s a lengthy document that among other things, calls for an ombudsman and divided powers. The constitution was announced a week after the union approved Boston lawyer Paul Kelly as its new executive director. Two members of the Columbus Blue Jackets NHL team, centers Michael Peca and Manny Malhotra, spoke confidently of the changes. “The players appear to have taken back their players union,” said Peca. “For too long, we allowed certain individuals to carry too much power, and, in essence, we lost it.” Malhotra noted: “It took a lot of time and effort, but the changes we made were necessary. We had to get it all in one place so we won’t have certain things happen again.”
Those “certain things” also may have been a reference to the union’s original executive director, Robert Alan Eagleson, who had headed the organization for nearly a quarter century since its founding in 1967. A former politician, hockey agent and promoter, Eagleson, a native of Ontario, stepped down in 1991 following published accusations by several former players that he’d diverted substantial amounts of money from the NHLPA pension fund to his own personal use. He pleaded guilty in Boston in 1998 to three counts of mail fraud, and was fined $700,000; new NHLPA Executive Director Kelly, in fact, had been assistant district attorney in the grand jury investigation. Later that year Eagleson pleaded guilty in Toronto to embezzling from Canada Cup proceeds. He eventually was disbarred and sentenced to 18 months in Canadian prison. A charismatic figure, Eagleson did much good for pro hockey. But what NHL players want right now is the knowledge that one day they will collect their full pension while enjoying their privacy off the ice. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/1/07; www.cbc.ca, 10/24/07)