Monday, October 15, 2007

Replacing Ted
Looking for the next NHLPA head

The reports that the NHLPA is narrowing in on its next executive director have been coming hot and heavy the past few days, and The Globe and Mail's Al Maki has a good look at just how the union's mindset may have shifted in that time.

Here's a look at the three men listed as the leading candidates to replace Ted Saskin:

Paul V. Kelly, a high-profile Boston lawyer

Kelly was an army brat, born in Virginia and growing up just outside Boston in nearby Brighton and Newton Highlands. A graduate of Boston College, he left the state to go to law school at the University of Toledo.

Now in his early 50s, Kelly's a senior partner at Kelly, Libby & Hoopes, a white-collar criminal defence firm established by three top Boston lawyers in 2000. He's a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, a job he left in 1996 to work as defender with Foley Hoag & Eliot.

As a prosecutor, he didn't start at the top, instead working the crime and drug units before eventually developing a reputation as someone who could handle the 'Big Case.' That reputation led to tackling the U.S. case against former NHLPA director Alan Eagleson, which is still mentioned as one of his most high-profile assignments.

He's one of Boston's best-known lawyers, and was described as a "blond, boyish prosecutor" in earlier days.

Kelly is a member of the state bars of Massachusetts and Ohio, and a lecturer and author, and was apparently "listed in Woodward/White's The Best Lawyers in America."

I'm afraid I couldn't find any connection to hockey in looking into his background, but Kelly is the front runner and quite likely the NHLPA's next executive director.

Random quote from 11 years ago: "It was my choice to do ... the cases with the most impact on the community. If I had to do it again, I would follow the same path. I feel those are the cases we should be doing, because we have the resources that the locals don't."

Richard Berthelsen, long-time NFLPA lawyer

Dick Berthelsen is 63 years old, and a lifelong union lawyer for the NFLPA, first under fiery former executive director Edward Garvey and then current union head Gene Upshaw.

A native of Racine, Wisconsin, (about an hour outside of Milwaukee) Berthelsen went to law school with Garvey and that was essentially his 'in' to professional football's fledgling union in the early 1970s.

In those days, the NFLPA was on life support, and with players refusing to pay dues and some serious startup problems, it took several successful antitrust suits for the group to begin to win concessions from the league beginning with the 1974 strike. Berthelsen was hired as full-time legal counsel and assistant to the executive director in 1972 and appointed general counsel in 1983.

Berthelsen's now been a key adviser to Upshaw for more than 20 years, and was even a finalist when Bob Goodenow was hired to replace Eagleson in 1990. He was directly involved in negotiating the NFL's collective bargaining agreements in 1977, 1982, and 1993. He's also the co-founder of the Association of Representatives of Professional Athletes.

Most recently, Berthelsen's been in the news as part of the team defending Michael Vick's right to keep $22-million in bonus money.

Random quote from eight years ago: "I've been around 25-plus years and I often say nothing surprises me, but that may be an exception. You couldn't have a more dramatic example of a football injury, and a more deserving person to get every benefit under our collective bargaining agreement than Mike Utley. We negotiated long and hard for these benefits and we expect to get them."

Bill Gregson, president of a sports retail giant

The lone Canadian in this trio, Gregson also has the lowest profile (which basically means he was the toughest to find anything to write about). Of note is that I've seen him referred to as the CEO of Forzani, which is incorrect.

Unlike the two legal eagles above, Gregson comes from the retail sector, where he's been a part of the Forzani Group since 1997. Forzani's essentially a giant Calgary-based sports retail company that operates SportsChek, National Sports and Coast Mountain Sports stores.

Gregson got on board originally as executive vice-president of corporate retailing after he "earned renown by resurrecting Bata Ltd.'s Athletes World earlier in the 1990s." He was appointed to his current role as president and COO in January, 2003.

As a Canadian retail company, it's no surprise Forzani has been involved with a few NHL-related initiatives, including a pact as the exclusive Canadian retailer for Sidney Crosby's Reebok collection.

Despite the business acumen he could bring, consider Gregson a long shot at this point.

Random quote from earlier this year: "Sport Chek has a legacy of connecting Canadians with authentic products relating to their favourite sports. Partnering with Reebok gives us the opportunity to connect consumers with their favourite sporting icons."

That's what we've got, and I don't think it's any surprise that Kelly's going to be put forward in a conference call this week. He may be overqualified, if anything — not that it's not a plum role.

Berthelsen, meanwhile, has been a back-room type for a long, long time with a sport that's in a very different boat than the NHL, and Gregson seems to have the background of a top-notch marketer more than anything (which might not be a bad idea for a right-hand man).

What does somewhat seem strange is that none of these fellows have any ties to the game, not really, and none of the high-profile agent types rumoured to be in the running (Mike Liut comes to mind) are in the mix.

It seems the search committee was quite serious about wanting to go outside the box, and bring someone in who hasn't been tainted by the unwholesome mess we've seen for a long, long time with regards to NHLPA dealings.



At 10:49 a.m., October 15, 2007, Anonymous Gerald said...

This is a good summary, James. Two points:

1. Do you not find it incredibly ironic that the putative leading candidate specializes in the defense of white collar defendants, much like what the types of things that from which the NHLPA is recovering? Granted he is a former prosecutor, but he is now the guy who defends guys like Eagleson.

2. Given that your colleague pointed out a bit of philosophical difference between two groups on the search committee (business-oriented vs. hawk, to put it admittedly simply), an observation essentially confirmed by Dowbiggin, do you not find it to be odd timing that the stories of Saskin's relationship with the NHL came out at the same time as the selection is coming down to the short strokes?

It is almost as if someone who wishes to revert to the old NHLPA approach of eternal combat leaked that information to a favoured conduit (of another paper, mind you) in order to influence his brethren ("see, we need a guy who is going to kick some ass, not some business head who is going to get all cosy with the sworn enemy!!"). Maybe someone who was quoted frequently in that favoured conduit's article (including the most recent one)?

In my eyes at least, this indicates to me that that NHL player's clumsy footprints are all over this recent set of "allegations". It dovetails a little too nicely.

At 11:18 a.m., October 15, 2007, Blogger Nick said...

1. Do you not find it incredibly ironic that the putative leading candidate specializes in the defense of white collar defendants,

Not really, hockey players aren't exactly earning blue collar salaries.

At 11:10 a.m., October 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hockey players aren't earning blue collar salaries, but they aren't in the "arrogantly rich" class as the owners are either. Now that we see ticket prices are NOT related to salaries can we stop whining about the greedy players?

After two Owner lead lockouts it is the NHLPA that is adversarial? Wasn't the last lockout an attempt to crush the union? Seems a little hostile to me.


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