NHLPA Carousel Keeps On Spinning

NHLPA logoThe revolving door at the NHL Players’ Association has picked up speed with its members showing Executive Director Paul Kelly to the exit. According to NHLPA Ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, the players didn’t have the “trust and confidence” in Kelly required to lead them any more.

The next NHLPA boss will be the fourth to hold the position since 2005 (five if you count current Interim Executive Director Ian Penny). The NHLPA’s front office is starting to look like the average NFL team’s coaching staff in terms of turnover — and this should not please fans as the union’s 2011 contract negotiations approach.

According to Darren Dreger of TSN, the atmosphere surrounding the vote to remove Kelly was acrimonious to say the least. After hours of discussions, Kelly “bolted from the boardroom visibly upset, he refused
to comment . . . before quickly leaving the area all together.
” The NHLPA simply stated that the players voted “overwhelmingly” for Kelly’s removal.

The message seems to be that the players want a tougher character in place for 2011. Or perhaps the players are simply following the lead of Buzz Hargrove, the “interim” Ombudsman for the past 2.5 years and some say the real power behind the current NHLPA.

Hargrove was the longtime leader of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union, and fought hard for both his CAW charges and his own reelections. But leading a mammoth union of auto workers is one thing; a relatively small union of athletes is an entirely different beast.

The NHL is still dragging itself out of the muck and mire of its self-imposed obscurity, recovering from its devastating lockout. The lockout’s damage may never be completely undone, but the NHL is certainly in better shape than a few years ago — in no small part due to the charisma of stars like Alex Ovechkin drawing fans to the game. ESPN’s Bill Simmons recently declared his wish for more sporting exuberance a la Ovi: “I love Ovechkin’s self-check into the boards [after a goal]. It’s fantastic.” High-Definition television doesn’t hurt either; hockey may benefit more from HD than any other sport (e.g., “Hey, I can see the puck!”)

Fans should pray to the hockey gods that union bluster does not threaten the league’s hard-fought gains. For those gains, while notable, will crumble if the union and the owners do not work together. Hockey is still hovering on the popular fringe in most U.S. markets. With the continuing recession and increasing competition for entertainment dollars, hockey remains in a precarious situation — one that almost certainly could not survive another big labor stoppage.

For the sake of fans everywhere, let’s hope that the NHLPA remembers just how fortunate its members are to be paid so well for jobs they love. Whoever steps in as the new Executive Director must do what it takes to keep hockey hale and hearty — and not use the position for grandstanding. The NHLPA best represents its members’ interests by negotiating constructively, not destructively, and by keeping its players on the ice.

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6 Responses to NHLPA Carousel Keeps On Spinning

  1. garbage_goal says:

    With the continuing recession and increasing competition for entertainment dollars, hockey remains in a precarious situation — one that almost certainly could not survive another big labor stoppage.

    Are you saying you don’t think the NHL would survive another work stoppage? I disagree. It would set the league back to 2005, but no further, I think. Look in the mirror and tell me: would you stop following hockey if they closed shop for another year? I wouldn’t.
    In the end, the NHLPA needs leadership that it feels represents its interest. I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling about anyone named “Buzz” running the ship, but if the players believe they need a more aggressive stance, that is their prerogative. We the fans may not like it – but we’re not the ones with a livelihood at stake in this matter.
    I don’t appreciate that every hockey outlet (including OFB, now) is holding up the big bad boogeyman of another lockout just because the NHLPA leadership is unstable and leaning towards a less league-friendly stance. Let’s all wait and see how things play out before carving a headstone for the NHL.

  2. Section 117 says:

    The thing is, does the NHLPA get better served by someone who works with both offices to deliver the fairest picture, or delivers a perceived yet misguided sense of workers’ solidarity at the risk of the league? If they cared about the representative leadership, I’d suggest this move possibly wouldn’t have happened. Even if parts of the Union still doesn’t like the escrow deal, that (among a whole host of other things) will be key at the table in ’11. Putting in folks who are more interested in confrontation doesn’t do anyone any good.
    Barring a surprise, the presumed powers that be that will be running the league include people that are of the Goodenow era, who might have had a strong stance, but stopped working (or threatened to) like we change our smoke alarm batteries. It was only after the extreme when the players dumped Goodenow, but they’re heading back down that road if they stick with Hargrove, Penny, Pink and Lindros.

  3. Dougeb says:

    I believe a lockout would set the NHL back a long ways. I’m not sure some of the franchises clearly ‘on the bubble’ right now would even survive. I could envision a contracted league of at least 6 fewer teams.
    I would never return to the NHL, as a dedicated Season ticket holder and fan, if there were a year long exile.
    The salary cap keeps the playing field leveled. Without a cap, the rich teams woule always be in the playoffs. If the players want to demolish the game, press forward with a strike. It’s completely absurd I tell you..

  4. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    Garbage_Goal: Of course I’d continue following hockey if there were another prolonged lockout. It’s pretty much genetic. But the die-hards aren’t the ones they need to worry about, it’s the casual fans who make up a large chunk of the NHL’s revenue. In such a gate-driven league, they simply cannot afford lose their momentum and slide back to vast tracts of empty seats in most arenas.
    I’m not carving a headstone by any stretch — I’m hopeful that the union recognizes that one year of a player’s livelihood is more than most of its fans will make in a lifetime, and that they negotiate in good faith with the owners.
    If they, however, take too hard a line then… well then that is exactly AGAINST the players’ best interests. Where else will they earn anything near what they make in the NHL? Sure, a few may flourish in the KHL, but more will be working back at Canadian Tire.

  5. Cville Paul says:

    During the last strike/lockout (I don’t care what happened, no NHL hockey was played) I bought my first DVD player. I needed something to do. If there is another strike/lockout I will burn my OV jersey, cancel any subscription I have to NHL games on TV, and generally take up something else entirely–perhaps the banjo. I love hockey, but I am not a whore. I will not be abused by owners, even good ones, or players, even great ones. I am not a casual fan. I went to the first Caps game ever–a preseason game v. the Canadiens at Cap Center. We lost 2-0. (Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure that was, at least, the first home game in Caps history.) The NHLPA/owners will no longer ruin my life and I’ll not ever again be a hockey fan if there is another lockout.
    OV/Semin/Green/Nick/Ted/Bruce–I love you all. But don’t drain on me and tell me its raining.
    Cville Paul

  6. OrderedChaos (Mike Rucki) says:

    @ PAUL: Thank you for providing the perspective of a die-hard fan. The NHLPA’s disarray is an unsettling indicator, but I’m still hopeful that cooler heads among the owners and union will prevail.

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