Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The NHLPA meetings
The black sheep

I spent close to four hours standing outside of a conference room last Friday afternoon, listening to eight or nine NHL players address the media and reveal their hopes and ideas for the NHLPA's next chapter.

Two years earlier, and indeed long before that, had one attended these proceedings, they would have been listening to a much different group of players outline the union's business, a band that from 1998 to 2006 was led by NHLPA president Trevor Linden.

The list of previous presidents includes Bob Pulford, Bobby Clarke, Tony Esposito, Bryan Trottier and Mike Gartner. Given the opinion of the position now, however, by those currently in charge, it's quite likely Linden is the last one we'll ever see.

Two years earlier, and indeed long before that, the president was the union's go-to active player, the one leading the charge toward whatever goal and/or resolution the union pursued. Beginning sometime this season, regardless of how the hierarchy is remodelled, it's a safe bet there won't be a president in the constitution.

Linden steered the union ship during what was the first cancellation of an entire season due to a labour dispute by a North American major professional sport. Last week, in four hours of sometimes meandering statements on the direction of the union, his name wasn't mentioned once.

Toward the end of the afternoon, after a lot of positivity from all concerned, I asked Mathieu Schneider how someone like Linden fit into the picture as a dues-paying member of the reborn NHLPA.

"Chris Chelios has had conversations with him," he began, before pausing.

"And you know Billy Guerin — we’ve been good friends with Billy for years, on the U.S. team and things like that, and there was friction there for a long time."

Guerin was one of six NHLPA vice-presidents working with Linden during the lockout, someone who was named along with Ted Saskin, Linden, Vincent Damphousse and Bob Boughner in a lawsuit brought by Chelios and the other "dissidents" in October, 2006. (It was dismissed on jurisdiction a few months later and hasn't been heard from since.)

And then there were the reports from PA meetings during the lockout that Guerin and Tie Domi had nearly come to blows.

Yes, there was friction. For a long time.

"I think that the message that we send them here, we want to send to those guys is 'we need to get through this together,'" Schneider said. "We don’t want to leave anyone on the outside, this needs to be a true democracy."

Linden, Guerin and others reported to have been involved when the PA began to acquiesce in the summer of 2005, were not at the three days of meetings in Toronto, however. And it really isn't known just how big a group that is.

"Mistakes were made and I think players have admitted that," Schneider continued. "This Sheila Block report, there are regrets from players who wish they had done things differently, and you know, to me, that says an awful lot. They were under incredible amounts of stress; they were probably not qualified to negotiate a CBA, or a deal of that magnitude, and they had the weight of 700 guys on their shoulders. I wish they would have gotten outside help back then, but they didn’t, and for whatever reason, but here we are now, we’re in a great position, and we’re in a position to say guys, we’re all a part of this and were in this together."

But, I asked, is the reason we're seeing so many younger players move into player rep roles because older guys, like Linden, like Guerin, don't want to be part of this?

"I think, you know, Chris and I were talking about it, and you know he asked me if I wanted to be a player rep in Anaheim, and he said he’s not going to do it in Detroit, he’d like Dan Cleary to do it," Schneider said. "Guys that are going to be around for years and that can pass the torch down to the next generation of players. You know, there’s certainly a generation gap between guys like myself and Chris, and you know the 19- and 20-year-olds that come into the league. We’d like to think that there’s not but there absolutely is. And to have guys that have been in the league you know 15 years and guys that are going to be in the league another 10 to maintain that kind of continuity is going to be important going forward. For me, I’ll have discussion with guys in Anaheim, but I would love to see a young guy be a player rep there, they have some great young players there. ... They could certainly have an impact on the way things are going."

Is this still a group divided? Is a large portion of the membership not here because they simply don't want to be?

"I think it’s possible, because obviously I haven’t had a chance to talk to everyone," Schneider said, "but I think when guys get to camp and learn what has gone on over the summer and the direction now we’re heading in, I don’t see how you could not want to be a part of it. You know, at the very least, be a proud member. Things are going really well, you know, there’s always going to be a few guys that aren’t happy, but I think we’re going to have as close to 100-per-cent support as we’ve ever had."

Schneider's a stand-up guy, and he obviously wasn't going to "name names" or point fingers at fellow players over things that happened two years ago. Why would he? There's nothing to be gained by it and the entire tenor of the day was about moving forward.

Still, it was worth one more question.

The only reason I ask [about Linden], I said, is that I know Trevor was so well respected and such a big part of the union for so long, and now, well, he’s sort of in no man’s land. I just wonder, have you thought about bringing him back or saying something publicly about what his place is?

"I don’t anticipate the organization making a statement," Schneider said. "Other than: I think we’re going to make it extremely clear to him that we welcome him in the organization. You know, going forward, the player reps, the 30 reps are going to be the entire executive board, with the new constitution, and that’s going to create a truer democracy among the players. It’s going to be truly a union for the players, and I don’t think that’s been the case over the years."

In other words, no more president, no more hierarchy. Mistakes were made, certainly, and that's the end of the way it was.

What's to be done with the black sheep?
"To be questioned for your motives and for your integrity has been, I guess, difficult. We've tried to do what's right for the 700 guys and put our association in the right direction."

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At 3:49 a.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the PA just get it over with and re-hire Goodenow, so we can all go back to hating them as the under-educated greed=heads they really are.
Linden's probably the only guy who could fill out an application form, so to see him get thrown under the bus by a bunch of hotel-room-wrecking Americans is disgraceful.
For all the scorn heaped on Bettman, BoB Goodenow did more to ruin hockey than any single person in the history of the game. That Chelios could even entertain the notion of bringing him back shows his complete lack of judgement.

At 7:55 a.m., September 04, 2007, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Thankyou Mr. Bettman for your input. Why not post under your real name next time. LOL
2) Fact is, the owners/Bettman initiated the last 2 work stoppages, and we have been on record that it won't be the last!
3) BTW 'anonymous' are you enjoying those cheaper ticket prices yet?

At 8:36 a.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does that make the owners over-educated greed-heads?

At 9:33 a.m., September 04, 2007, Blogger Lowetide said...

What EXACTLY is the NHLPA's role? I can think of 100 things they SHOULD be doing and aren't, among them finding some money for Jim Harrison and men like him who passed through the league when Alan Eagleson was raping them and have been left poor and unloved.

Also, why aren't they picking up the torch for Tavares? I understand the importance of keeping the rank and file happy, but the NHLPA still seems to me too much about a bunch of guys wandering around looking like they know what they're doing instead of a bunch of guys interested in improving the player's situation and the league as a whole.

I think the NHLPA fails to see things as they are, and in fact for the most part responds to how the NHL itself frames specific issues.

THAT represents absolute failure.

At 9:41 a.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would think Tavares is a collective bargaining issue and will have to be dealt with at that time.

Thanks for all the articles James. One thing that has always puzzled me is why Alfie is never included in talks about Guerin and the boys.

At 11:06 a.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were under incredible amounts of stress; they were probably not qualified to negotiate a CBA, or a deal of that magnitude, and they had the weight of 700 guys on their shoulders. I wish they would have gotten outside help back then, but they didn’t, and for whatever reason, but here we are now, we’re in a great position, and we’re in a position to say guys, we’re all a part of this and were in this together."

I don't think that that's throwing Linden under the bus in the slightest. It's probably a fair assessment and it acknowledges that it's a bit unfair to nail Linden to the cross, given the situation he was in.

I'm wondering if we're going to see a situation whereby they lean more on outside counsel for labour negotiations. I've always thought that that made a lot more sense for a number of reasons - its dumb for the PA to keep the necessary expertise on staff for a negotiation that happens once or twice a decade and it's probably impossible for them to keep the right expertise around anyway - people who are good at this stuff and want to do it aren't interested in doing it so rarely. By limiting the Saskin/Goodenow position to one of managing the union's business affairs and liasing between lawyers and players, you're probably setting up a much more efficient and logical operation.

At 11:33 a.m., September 04, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

The players could do a hell of a lot worse than to hire Marvin Miller as a consultant as they try to put this thing back together. Sure, Miller is 90, but he's also still damned feisty.

At 1:49 p.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't we admit there's more than enough greed to go around. Owners plead poverty while they cook the books, beg for taxpayer handouts, and raise ticket prices through the roof. Players would sign 4-year contracts then hold out when someone would sign a bigger one, they employed a union head who was more belligerent than Buzz Hargrove, and they demand "their slice of the pie" like they're an oppressed group of Marxists.
Meanwhile, basic workplace safety issues go unaddressed and the fan has to take out a home equity line of credit to go to a game.
Tough to feel sorry for any of them.

At 2:23 p.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Trevor Linden is a stand up guy that did whatever he could to get the rank and file back to playing hockey. The reality is that Ted Saskin used this to take control of the union. People may dislike Chelios, but he recognized what was being done and called the union out on it.

At 2:39 p.m., September 04, 2007, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Anonymous: Since Yashin, who was the last 'greedy' player who 'held out' despite already being under contract??
2) The last 2 work stoppages came to be due to owners unable to police themselves. The players did NOT start either 'fight'!

At 3:17 p.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's cut through the BS on this!

Chelios, Klatt, Schneider and all the other Goodenow sycophants are not interested in improving corporate governance of the NHLPA. The sole reason they statrted this process was to even scores with Linden and Saskin, after they went around Goodenow and negotiated a cap.

The NHLPA members owe Linden a huge debt of gratitude for what he did in getting a decent settlement and not allowing Goodenow and Chelios to take the NHLPA over the cliff by extending the lockout to a second season which would have destroyed the NHLPA.

There are many inconsistencies in Chelios' interview which prove this. For example he complains that the constitution is only one and a half pages long and is inadequate. He was a player rep for many years - did he ever complain about it previously - no he did not. The constitution was drafted by Goodenow, yet he says Goodenow did a great job. He says the NHLPA needs to be more democratic, yet the guy he supports and would like to see return - Goodenow - ran it like a dictator - and Chelios never complained about that.

Finally, Chelios et al propose a 30 player board with no President (or Chair) to which the Executive Director would report.

As someone who has been involved in corporate governance, I can assure you that is an unworkable structure. A 30 member board is too big - unless they delegate authority to a smaller 6 to 8 player executive committee. And the Executive Director needs a single contact point (a President) to report to, to get day to day decisions and guidance from. He can't run around getting decisions from 30 players all the time, especially during a busy NHL schedule.

The NHLPA's problem in corporate governanace was not structure - it was that none of the players wanted to be involved in the NHLPA and they allowed it to be hijacked by Goodenow who was more interested in getting into a "death fight" with Bettman than negotiating the best deal possible for the players.

Finally, isn't it interesting now that Chelios has "nailed" Linden and Saskin, he is no longer interested in serving on the NHLPA!

James, from my previous posts you will know that I am no fan of Linden as a player - however when it comes to his role in resolving the lockout and firing Goodenow - he did a great job!

At 4:23 p.m., September 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here all along I thought it was the goal of Bettman and friends to crush the NHLPA. I still recall this being a lockout that had the "full" support of the fans. What the fans received was an open market for ticket prices and a closed market for labor costs. I in turn despise Chelios as a player and yet I applaud his tenacity in getting the union back to where it belongs.

There are many inconsistencies with some people's analysis, consider it was Trent Klatt that stated the constiution was only two pages long not Chelios. Goodenow was a dictator? Nice facts to back up that statement. Bettman is a dictator so was Stalin.


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