Nobody knows anybody. Not that well. – Tom Reagan, Miller’s Crossing
In a large woods of tall trees, another poor soul is on his knees, crying for his life. A dark figure stands in the killing posture, poised.
No, this isn’t the Coen Brothers gem of a movie, Miller’s Crossing. This is what has been happening to heads of the NHL’s Player Association ever since Bob Goodenow stepped down after the NHLPA bowed to the pressure of a NHL owner run lockout that canceled the 2004 and 2005 hockey season.
Ever since then, player solidarity and vision has been splintered as the head of the NHLPA has become like the drummer to Spinal Tap.
And beneath the surface lies a Dashiell Hammet-like caper that is vying to hammer out a battle to different gangs… The old guard and the new class of players. Behind both are player agents who are tied to player rights and contract values like Ahab to the White Whale.
So the lay of the land is tremendously unsettled, and games are played by both sides in what is a tug of war that seems to get top brass of the NHLPA effectively shot in the woods.
Perhaps the only thing missing in all this is the troublesome dame who has emeshed them all deep within a woven web.
Our tale begins as all do, noir style, as bodies fall without much clarity as to why. Those following these goings on the usual mainstream of blog venues are getting their information in drips and drabs, but nothing seems very clear.
In fact the more we seem to know, the more confusing it seems to get.
Is this the new NHLPA designated meeting place these days?
There was a complaint that ran through the din the other day of why was all this NHLPA rumpus important or even a main news story. This is like asking the same of the Lighthouse Project. Both are important issues and the battles within have great effect on the future. One for a team. This for an entire league, as there are severe undercurrents that will portend either a bloody work stoppage, or just a scattered mess of players under the NHL owner’s foot.
You say you don’t care?
You will when there is another canceled season, ladies and gents.
This is why many journalists and bloggers have been following these goings on with some concern.
For yhose who aren’t privy to the shenanigans,basically, the NHLPA has been about as steady as Michael J. Fox using a jackhammer. Or for those squeamish, Andre Agassi after a few cans of ‘special’ JOLT. Or for even more squeamish, how about any of the Toronto Maple Leaf goalies? There ya go.
Basically, the inmates have done more than just run the asylum. The players have taken out the heads of the NHLPA as if this is Survivor, but with Don Cherry instead of Jeff Probst.
Infighting, politicking, backstabbing, tattling, you name it…it has happened with the NHLPA in the last few years, ever since they bowed to the NHL in the last CBA. So, one would think they rallied and reorganized? Far from it. The politics underneath and subsequent drama mean quite a bit to what amounts to several car wrecks before a looming CBA where two sides must hash out differences under that bargaining agreement. Add in it might be very likely that a recession is still affecting things, make the future even more murky.
Thus, the ripples of what is a floundering NHLPA will have effects to their own strength and positioning when it is high noon. Just as a NHL who had a fiasco in Phoenix as a rogue came in and tried to move them and showed flaws in their own armor which has a few more dents like a non-espn agreement, US clubs in trouble, last few expansion teams in the red, and a few fiascoes like Boots and other embarrassments.
To act like these aren’t important or have effect on what might transpire is almost being willingly obtuse.
Furthermore, the politics beneath the mechanics might be more than even it seems to the naked eye. There might be a battle going on of new players and old with a few agents thrown in pivoting and entrenched on either side.
If there is one person smack dab in the middle of things of all the goings on, it is a player who is not even paying union dues this year as he sits in the AHL hoping a team signs him at the ripe age of 47 years old. Chris Chelios made it his business to topple Ted Saskin back in 2007. He accused player agent Don Meehan of undermining the NHLPA back then as well. Chelios, in fact, has a large part to play in the propping up Paul Kelly as NHLPA head when he had an executive search firm headed by his old buddy, former Flyer’s Captain, Dave Poulin.
Then out went Kelly, taken out by the very rules that Chelios and others ratified, but by a new class of players. Those who helped topple Kelly were of the new school of players who took exception at Kelly’s attempt to find out what players were saying about him in meetings.
Then, suddenly, post-coup, Chelios and others were front and center. Ian Penny, who was someone who had blood on his hands getting Kelly removed, was now in charge as players began to try to investigate on what exactly transpired.
Chelios was part of a committee of vets that were mandated to look into it. Instead, they, led by Chelios and per sources and even Steve Larmer, his former teammate, “exceeded their mandate”.
Exceeding the mandate seems almost an understatement as Chelios, per Ian Penny’s letter of resignation, describing the AHL defenseman as almost a cloddish overwrought Phillip Marlowe on steroids. Chelios was purposely strong arming his way, using someone from the NHLPA’s offices to feed him information, to make the current structure implode on it’s own volition. Either way, wreckage has ensued, because in either case or in-between, Chelios rode in with some leeway to investigate, seemed to carry a Bazooka and an axe to grind, and never seemed to investigate anything at all.
His actions attempted to hamstring the current actions of the NHLPA brass, trying to make them not talk to one another, but nowhere through all this did this committee seem to actually do what it was created to do in the first place. Instead, Mike Ouellet will be acting Executive Director, and the old guard now leads again. Sources cite that Ouellet was the person feeding Chelios piecemeal of every NHLPA email, phone call and meetinginformation, as Chelios was cowboying his way to clean house.
Some say this ‘cleaning of house’ needed to happen. Yet this is the third sweeping post-CBA. The old guard is now back in charge. What is becoming clearer and clearer is the dynamics of old school vs new school. To say that somehow things are solved or cleaned-up are far from accurate. If anything things might be as unsettled as they were earlier this summer. Players and agents seem split on the goings-on, and solidarity seems hard to find, despite overblown words of some thinking that anything is one whit solved. Some feel that Chelios needs to get out of the way, besides retire, so that newer players can put forth their own identity and create some balance. The fact that several agents sit on different sides of all this might be the most dangerous thing of all, as they speak in many a players ear.
Hell, and I am sure it’s far from over, as many cooks seem to have a spoon in the stew.
Email me: BD@hockeyindependent.com
Leave a comment below
About the Author: B.D. Gallof is a published writer and hockey blogger. He writes about Hockey, NY Islanders & the NY Islanders venue situation for CBS New York. BD has been written up in Sports Illustrated, TSN.ca, the NY Times Slapshots blog, Yahoo's Sports and SportsBusiness Journal. He has been a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, as well as owner, lead writer, and managing editor at HockeyIndependent.com.