The probe, initiated by a dissident player group led by Chris Chelios and approved by 19 of the union’s 30 team-player reps, was announced Thursday in a release from a New York-based public relations company.
It was agreed to by the player reps after the Chelios group said it would not relaunch its lawsuit against Saskin, former union president Trevor Linden and others as long as an independent investigation took place, according to a source.
Three days ago, the group’s lawsuit was dismissed by a U.S. federal court in Illinois when the judge agreed with the union position that an Ontario court should hear the case.
That deal appears to set the stage for a final resolution of the year-and-a-half long saga. Chelios, Dwayne Roloson and Trent Klatt have led a group of some 70 players who have sought Saskin’s removal as the NHLPA’s executive director ever since he took over from Bob Goodenow following the lockout.
They have repeatedly alleged that proper procedure wasn’t followed in hiring Saskin. The union and Saskin have denied that.
“There are a lot of questions that haven’t really been answered,” said Detroit Red Wings defenceman Mathieu Schneider, a member of the NHLPA’s executive committee. “There are a lot of players that have questions, it’s not a small group.
“At the end of the day, even a small split in the union is going to cause you to not have success.”
This latest challenge to Saskin came hours before a scheduled conference call between him and the NHLPA’s executive board, which is made up of the seven-member executive committee and the player-rep from each of the 30 teams.
The NHLPA declined comment until after the call, although executive committee members Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars and Kevyn Adams of the Phoenix Coyotes told The Canadian Press they hoped the probe would settle matters.
“I don’t think I’ll learn anything new,” said Turco. “I hope it’s an end for some stubborn people.
“It’s just people need to form an opinion so we can talk about how to move forward so it’s more for people who haven’t been paying attention.
“We’d certainly like to end the bickering and get back to being a strong hockey union, which we were and should be.”
Added Adams: “I think a lot of the guys feel like, let’s get through this and move on. I don’t see a problem with getting answers because that’s good and healthy for everyone involved. But it has to be done the right way.”
A looming bone of contention will be who conducts the investigation. The petition circulated among player reps that asked teams to vote on launching an investigation suggested that Toronto lawyer Sheila Block conduct the affair.
One source said Saskin had questioned her selection and objectivity in a memo to the players. Block attended the union’s meeting in Whistler, B.C., last summer representing Chelios’ group, said another source.
Schneider, Adams and Turco all agreed that a mutually agreed upon third-party investigator was a necessity.
“From what I’m hearing, that’s not what Chelios’ group has in mind,” said Adams. “I think Ted would be very happy to have an investigation if that’s what the players want and be open to it. But any responsible, rational person involved knows it would have to be a third party.
“It has to be that way.”
The dissidents have tried several routes to force Saskin out:
-In September 2005, they began complaining about the Aug. 31 vote that ratified Saskin’s five-year deal, saying conducting it via conference call violated union bylaws.
-Ten days later Saskin agreed to conduct another vote by secret ballot, with 24 of the 28 ballots returned (37 were sent out) confirming his hiring.
-Complaints were filed with both the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board. The Labor Department ruled that the matter wasn’t in its jurisdiction while the Labor Board dismissed 11 of 12 complaints, with one pending.
-Last July, Linden resigned as NHLPA president during a union meeting that was believed to have ended the infighting. In July, the Chelios group launched its failed lawsuit in Illinois.
The investigation should be the capper.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” said one player who supports Saskin. “We’ve already had all the questions answered several times.”
Schneider disagreed, saying the dissidents’ push shouldn’t be seen as a one-man show.
“Chris has a very strong personality as we all know and has been one of the driving forces from the beginning,” he said. “But what I think needs to be said is it’s a large group of players that have questions.”
The NHLPA’s interim executive committee also includes Alyn McCauley of the Los Angeles Kings and Wade Redden and Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators. The union still does not have a president.
Turco believes the infighting has been a major problem and believes the investigation could solve things for good.
“You’d hope so,” said Turco. “But who knows?”