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Chelios says many led the fight for right in NHLPA leadership review

Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe were driving forces behind attempts to review the Saskin appointment. They got little support when they began asking questions, such as why the hiring was done by conference call when the association constitution calls for a secret ballot.

"Two quality people who tried to do the right thing and nobody would listen to them," Chelios said Friday prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks. "They were basically alienated, first by the executive committee and then by the board, and disappeared.

"That was a shame because they are two great guys."

Neither plays in the NHL anymore.

Chelios also cited Steve Larmer and Mike Gartner, former players who had been working for the association. They too have gone, having resigned amid all the controversy during the last year.

"Those were four quality people," said Chelios, a key figure in his own right in demanding answers. "I think now, with the Sheila Block report coming out . . . once that comes out and all the players are aware of what happened, these are guys, talking about vindication, who should be vindicated.

"They should feel really good about what they did. What we've done since their departure has really meant a lot to them."

Block, a Toronto lawyer, is conducting an internal review into the Saskin hiring. Her findings are expected this summer.

Saskin succeeded Bob Goodenow as executive director on July 28, 2005, on a five-year contract. It's unclear what will happen to the remaining $6 million on Saskin's deal.

While Saskin played a key role in resolving the NHL lockout, questions started emerging on the process by which he was hired. Things came to a boil in March when Saskin was put on a paid leave of absence, along with senior director Ken Kim, following allegations they read players' e-mails.

Toronto employment lawyer Chris Paliare was retained as outside counsel to address the employment issues surrounding Saskin and Kim. The decision to fire Saskin was made after Paliare reported back to the players.

Chelios wasn't gloating Friday, but didn't he feel vindicated?

"I don't want to say vindicated," he said. "All along, I never said it was anything personal. It was just what was best for the union."

One thing is for sure, said the 45-year-old American.

"You learn from your mistakes and we made some mistakes," Chelios said. "We took things for granted because things had gone so smoothly over the tenure with Bob Goodenow, but now we're going to do things right and I think everybody is aware that's what it's going to take to get us back to being a strong union like we were before."

Chelios said he's heartened by the unanimous nature of recent conference calls among the player reps.

"That's a great sign," he said. "We're going to get everything right.

"It's going to take some time but we've got the right people helping us, and we're going to find the right people."

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, a member of the interim executive committee and former Saskin backer, said the fate of Saskin was a "pretty easy decision."

"With the report the lawyer made, it was pretty obvious Ted did something he shouldn't have done," he said in Buffalo.

Andrew Peters, player rep for the Sabres, called the Saskin affair "unfortunate.".

"But in the grand scheme of things, the players have done what they feel is in the best interests of the players today and for the players in the future," he added.

Asked about Saskin, he said: "There's a wrong way to do things and he made a mistake. I'm sure that if he could go back, he would. But what's done is done and it's time to move forward."

Saskin's fate was decided Thursday in a conference call with player representatives from the 30 teams. The vote count was 22-0.

Chelios said not all the reps were available. Some were at the world championships in Russia while Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff was best man at a wedding.

"They'll still get a vote. It's (already) a majority but everybody will have their say," he said.

Chelios said he believes a search group will be hired to find a new leader.

The next executive director has "got to be qualified and it has to be somebody you trust."

"Those are the two biggest things in my opinion," he said.

Saskin's only response to date has been a short e-mail to The Canadian Press.

"All I am going to say at this time is that I remain proud of all the work I did for NHL players over the last 16 years and particularly in negotiating the new CBA which has been working out well," he said Thursday.

"I will work towards a fair resolution of my contractual rights with the NHLPA and wish them well in the future."

Chelios, the oldest player in the NHL, has been carrying a heavier on-ice workload since fellow-defenceman Mathieu Schneider broke his left hand last week. Chelios also owns two Detroit-region restaurants, and a family to attend to.

Finding time to help fix the NHLPA stretched him thin.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a burden during the regular season at some points but it's something that had to be dealt with," he said. "I had no trouble separating it from hockey.

"I've been committed to it. I wanted to make sure that when I leave this game I can leave it in a positive manner and do what's best for all the young kids coming up and for the game."


With files in Buffalo from CP sportswriter Pierre LeBrun.


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