Sunday, September 02, 2007

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.

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At 3:23 p.m., September 02, 2007, Blogger Bobby Orr said...

Great Reporting! Thanks!

At 5:38 p.m., September 02, 2007, Blogger Black Dog said...

James, I presume the lack of comments is due to the last long weekend - I would link to this group of posts on the sidebar or perhaps have a summary post on Tuesday when everyone is back from the woods.

Really terrific stuff all round.

At 5:46 p.m., September 02, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I've got a few more related items that will be going up over the next day or so that will hopefully keep them all linked together.

The timing of the whole thing is unfortunate, but what can you do. :)

At 6:36 p.m., September 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing ever truly disappears from the internetweb. Folks can read at their leisure when they get back to work. :)

Thanks for the detailed articles. Glad to see that all the players seem to be taking control of their own association, instead of complaining about the past and thinking that the proper course of action is to get a different leader without changing anything else. Much better to direct their own futures instead of trusting someone else to do it for them, and glad to see the younger players realizing how important this work is.

At 7:59 p.m., September 02, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

One of the things that struck me about this whole thing is the extent to which former NCAA players were disproportionately represented among the dissidents. Trent Klatt. Chris Chelios. Dwayne Roloson. Craig Adams. Shawn Horcoff. Brian Leetch.

I'm not sure why this is the case, but it's an interesting development.

At 10:35 p.m., September 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, has anyone questioned Trevor Linden about these reports and what they might say about his role in all of this? These guys seem to be taking a lot of "swipes" at Linden without mentioning his name.

Too be fair to Liden - although he showed his inexperience in corporate governance over the hiring of Saskin - he acted as a very good leader in rescuing the NHLPA from virtual anahilation by brokering an ending to the lockout.

Goodenow and many of his cronies like Chelios (older players who had already made most of their money) were ready to take the NHLPA "over the cliff" by extending the lockout to a second season in order to avoid a salary cap.

Linden on the other hand had to reconcile this minority group with the vast majority of the NHLPA who wanted a settlement even if it meant a salary cap. Linden new that if a settlement did not occur most of the players would defected from the NHLPA and return to play without a union.

So Linden showed true leadership and cut Goodenow out of the process and made the best deal he could with Saskin assisting him. And as we can see, its not that bad a deal for the players. More importantly, he preserved the NHLPA and allowed it to live to fight another day.

Where he went wrong was in the rush to appoint Saskin as the new Director.

So I wouldnt be so quick to make Chelios a hero in all of this, and make Linden the bad guy. If Chelios had been President he probably would have gone along with Goodenow and eventually destroyed the NHLPA.

At 11:18 p.m., September 02, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

So I wouldnt be so quick to make Chelios a hero in all of this, and make Linden the bad guy.

I don't think I am doing this, nor do I think it's that simple.

Stay tuned — I get into the Linden business a little later on.

At 9:27 a.m., September 03, 2007, Blogger Marchantfan said...

One of the things that struck me about this whole thing is the extent to which former NCAA players were disproportionately represented among the dissidents.

My guess is that since these are the guys that made going to school a priority, they're the ones with the minds and passion for this kind of work.

At 10:20 a.m., September 03, 2007, Blogger Doogie2K said...

One of the things that struck me about this whole thing is the extent to which former NCAA players were disproportionately represented among the dissidents. Trent Klatt. Chris Chelios. Dwayne Roloson. Craig Adams. Shawn Horcoff. Brian Leetch.

I'm not sure why this is the case, but it's an interesting development.

I dunno, I think it's pretty clear: the former NCAA players have a generally better education than major-junior graduates, which means they're more likely to understand the nature of what's going on, apply critical thinking skills, come up with an appropriate solution, and apply it. Not that the CHL kids are all dummies, necessarily, but they're not going to have, say, Shawn Horcoff's finance degree, and in a situation like this, I think that has been important.

At 2:58 p.m., September 03, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

Clearly, I think, the education plays a role. However, I think that being exposed to hockey in an American, rather than a Canadian, environment *might* also play a role. Playing someplace where the game is less of an obsession, and where making it to the NHL is less of an ultimate goal (and I say "less of," rather than "not a") could lead to a different perspective. This is a chicken-and-egg thing, of course, since the sort of player who chooses the NCAA route rather than the Major Junior route may have a different perspective to begin with.

At 3:29 p.m., September 03, 2007, Blogger Dave O said...

For the record, ... the photo of the Chelios (in his very nice suit) was taken while Chelios, Draper, Lang and Maltby ordered coffee before getting beat down by the Canucks 4-1 on St. Patrick's Day.

Indeed, I recorded a show about that game as the host of Canucks Outsider podcast and co-host of Crazy Canucks podcast {pardon the plug}.

I ran into them coincidentally (though there were plenty of mouth breather autograph 'pros' waiting) in front of the Pan Pacific hotel at Canada Place in Vancouver.

I asked the "dark lord" about the Bertuzzi addition (traded days before) - he guffawed and accused me of digging up dirt and then gave me crap about taking his photo before chilling out and mugging for a few snaps.

I also helped (the very polite) Draper and Lang get a cab (Lang looked drained and iron-deficient).

Thought it was interesting that the 4 veterans got an early start via taxi to the rink while the rest of the guys (i assume) rode the waiting charter bus.


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