The NHLPA meetings
Chris Chelios: From dissident to revolutionary
Two years ago, you wouldn't have found Chris Chelios anywhere near the NHLPA's leadership hierarchy.
On Friday, he was the face of the union's rebirth.
Chelios remains a big-time supporter of Bob Goodenow; he is one of the few active NHLers who was playing back when Alan Eagleson resigned in 1991 and his deputy (Goodenow) took over.
As soon as Goodenow was pushed out during the 2004-05 lockout, Chelios became an outsider, a trouble-maker on the fringe, and the only way he was going to get back into the NHLPA's decision-making fold was if Ted Saskin was forced out.
Now, with few veterans or stars on hand to offer input during three days of meetings in Toronto, Chelios is one of the leaders. He's hoping to pass the torch on to the NHL's young up-and-comers and has said he would like to see one of the Red Wings' youngsters take over the player rep duties this season.
Chelios said on Friday that the Block report merely reinforced what he'd been saying all along.
"It’s the same thing I’ve been saying for the past year and a half, two years when we started questioning our leadership, it was about getting information out to our players," he said. "Our job now that Sheila’s summarized everything is to get it out to the players and these guys realize that, and put this behind us and learn from our mistakes."
He admitted it will be difficult to keep the content of the recent union reports out of the public once all 700-plus of the membership get a copy in the new few weeks.
"It’s going to be tough. We want to handle this in house, we thought that was best for the union at this time, not to put it in the public eye," Chelios said. "But it can’t be helped. Every member’s going to get copies of the summary, the full report, the eight-page report, the Paliare report, and they’re entitled that because it came out of their surplus to fund that.
"You know, eventually the press is going to hear; I don’t think it’s anything different than what has been reported over the past year and a half, but it’s just a matter of getting it out. In Canada, you guys have no problem getting information; in the States, it’s a big problem. And we have the majority of our teams in the States and those guys weren’t aware, they were kept in the dark and they’re going to learn from this and it’s going to make us stronger."
Chelios pointed to the secret ballot that was used to elect Saskin as one instance where misinformation was spread through the union membership.
"I’ll use the secret ballot this year as one example: It was reported that 86 per cent of the union supported Ted, that was his quote. Well, it was very inaccurate; there was really only 55 per cent when all the votes were counted in the percentages. There were just things like that, so our group, once the player reps were nominated, properly, it only took two months to get this investigation voted in. So, no, we were divided. It was obvious we were divided from the get go, it was just a matter of, well, to go through the challenge to get these votes in."
He also intimated that the union remains fractured, but that the results of the recent reports prove that ousting Saskin was the right thing to do. He hopes that is enough to bring more players on side.
"You’ll always have players who are going to question you," Chelios said. "We’ve talked about the numbers with executive directors of other sports. A union can function when 95 per cent of the union is on board; it can’t function when we’re 50 per cent or 60, maybe even 70 they said — but you know I really like our numbers now. I don’t think there are too many guys that are going to question the decisions that were made.
"We have to understand that our leader put us in this position, it wasn’t the players. It was our leadership that caused this, and I’ve been through this in ’85 with Eagleson, the same only different, but it looked grim then, too, and look what happened: We had some of the best years, we had one of the strongest unions in all of sport, and that’s the message we’ve sent. You can say a small group showed up in Toronto, but that’s how it always starts and you can guarantee it’s going to grow and we’re going to rise from all of this."
Chelios also expressed hope that players and union staff who left the group during the infighting, people like Trent Klatt and Steve Larmer, would return to NHLPA. Larmer was on hand at the meetings, and several players said they'd hoped he could be coaxed into taking on a new role with the restructured organization.
Chelios certainly hasn't made a lot of friends throughout this whole ordeal, but it's clear that he does have some significant support. While some players expressed that they felt the Block report didn't contain enough damning information, others, like Shawn Horcoff, agreed that the constitution was abandoned and that that wasn't the proper course of action.
When it was pointed out to Horcoff that the constitution was partly to blame, that it was a flimsy document of under two pages, he said: "But it's still the constitution."
And that may have been Chelios's point all along.