Paul Kelly Fired: It's Kill or Be Killed

According to sources, part of this group’s desire to get rid of Kelly also stemmed from Kelly ordering an internal audit (by a top former FBI forensic accountant) of the players' association's expenses during the previous three years before he took over. That audit was still ongoing prior to Kelly’s dismissal. Sources claim that through the audit, Kelly discovered that then-interim leaders Penny and Lindros were spending millions of dollars of the union’s money. Lindros ended up resigning, but word is, that move fueled this attack on Kelly, and Lindros was very much involved. Kelly also beat out Pink for the executive director job, and the belief is that Pink is still sour over that.

- James Murphy, NESN.com (g/t Mirtle)

James Murphy’s name probably isn’t that familiar to Westerners, but he’s a well-connected Boston-based journalist who has written for both The Hockey News and NHL.com, and has a regular gig on NHL Home Ice (the league’s satellite radio channel). His article yesterday afternoon raises some alarming allegations against the group that overthrew Paul Kelly on Monday morning.

If correct, it will mean that aside from Hargorve (who I discussed at some length in my Oilers Nation article yesterday), the men who organized this coup all had deep personal interest in seeing Kelly’s leadership end.

Ian Penny, who replaced Kelly as executive director (with an "interim" tag) yesterday was recently awarded a new five-year contract from the PA. According to some reports, Kelly was unaware that Penny had been awarded the contract, while according to others he "tweaked" the deal before it was signed. Regardless – if accurate - the news of this internal audit would have represented a direct threat to Penny.

Aside from Penny, Eric Lindros had already been pushed out, and Ron Pink was passed over for the executive director’s job the first time around. According to Murphy, the future looks brighter for the entire group:

Sources close to the situation told NESN.com that former NHLPA associate counsel Ian Pulver, Penny and Pink are the leading candidates to take over as executive director. Former ombudsman Eric Lindros, who is rumored to be the driving force behind Kelly’s ouster (because Kelly reportedly forced Lindros to resign in February), is also expected to come back into the fold as well.

Pulver, who runs Pulver Sports (an agency that represents Sam Gagner, Mike Cammalleri and Rick DiPietro, among others) spent 16 years with the NHLPA – joining the group right out of law school. He and Penny were key players in the last CBA negotiation, with both working under Bob Goodenow and Ted Saskin.

In many ways, this seems like a battle between the old guard and the new guard; with the old guard ultimately successful in overthrowing Kelly. That’s not an entirely correct portrait. It does however seem like a battle between hardliners and moderates, with the hardliners carrying the day.

Penny (and, if involved, Pulver) both represent the Goodenow era, having spent many years in his employ. Lindros was an active member of the NHLPA over his career, and was one of the most vocal players during the NHL lockout. Hargrove and Pink – a veteran Halifax-based labour lawyer – are both new to the scene, and both come from a long history of labour negotiations. Both should be viewed as militants.

In contrast, Kelly and his camp, while not pushovers, were more reasonable. Kelly forged a good working relationship with Gary Bettman – Bettman addressed the NHLPA for the first time while Kelly was at its head. On the other hand, Kelly also spoke out publicly against the league on a number of occasions – criticizing the move to Versus, the instigator rule, a lukewarm attitude toward continued Olympic participation, the continued existence of the Phoenix Coyotes, and the league’s inability to expand revenue as quickly as the players wanted. Pat Flatley – who actually worked for the NHL (in the so-called war room) before the lockout, is also highly regarded, and he followed Kelly out the door, resigning within minutes of the latter’s termination. Glenn Healy, long seen as Kelly’s de facto lieutenant, is still with the union but it’s anyone’s guess how long he’ll be there. If he survives, his influence will certainly be diminished.

All of this sets the stage for more uncertainty when the CBA expires in 2011 or 2012 (the NHLPA has the option to extend it to the latter date). At that time, I’d expect to see the NHLPA leadership fully primed for another labour war – it’s hard to expect anything else from the group that now appears to be calling the shots.

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