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Fischler Report: An Interview with Former NHLPA Head Paul Kelly

Former NHLPA boss Paul Kelly chats with Stan Fischler about the challenges facing the NHL going forward, what Don Fehr's successor must do and much more. Plus, Fischler talks about Patrick Kane, David Quinn, the free agent market and more.
Paul Kelly

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH EX-NHLPA HEAD PAUL KELLY

Paul Kelly was the best union leader the NHL Players' Association ever had. Period! That's my opinion and has been for decades.

His tenure unfortunately was shortened which was shameful in its own right, but that's a story for another day.

What matters is that Kelly is available for another term now that Donald Fehr shortly will be shown the door. Hopefully, he'll get a chance.

With that in mind, I had a few questions for Kelly and he obliged by addressing the following topics:

His Most Important Accomplishment Since Leaving The NHLPA:

"Creating and leading College Hockey, Inc for nearly three years. We provided real value to the Division I NCAA hockey programs; now a pipeline to the NHL and NHLPA. We were the marketing and educational arm of the NCAA hockey programs and the emissary on behalf of those programs to the NHL, IIHF, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and the NCAA."

Kelly's work for the NHL Alumni Association: "I'm on the Board of Directors, serving with great people on the Board such as Glenn Healy and his excellent staff. Our mission is to serve the best interests of the alumni. That includes looking out for former players who might be struggling with life after hockey. That's been a passion of mine for 25 years, dating to my work as a federal prosecutor with Carl Brewer, Russ Conway, Bruce Dowbiggan, Sue Foster and others to expose the corruption and self-dealing by Alan Eagleson."

Biggest Challenges Facing The NHL Moving Ahead:

"The situation in Ukraine and how it will impact young players from Russia and Baltic states is a concern. Likewise, the potential for a resurgence of the pandemic given the continued existence of these highly contagious Covid variants bears watching; Then, there's the matter of improving the few struggling franchises to ensure a brighter future for the cities involved and for the benefit of the league as a whole. Members of the NHLPA do better when all franchise cities are successful and hockey related revenues are growing."

The Salary Cap: Players in any sport would prefer an uncapped, free market system. That said, the system which has evolved in the NHL has worked pretty well for both owners and players. So long as there's basic fairness in the system -- and each side is sharing in both the risks and benefits -- a Salary Cap system will succeed. That, in a nutshell, is what's happened in our sport."

Things Don Fehr's Successor Must Do:

"He must respect and listen to the players. He must get out of the office and see and hear what's happening across the league. He must think creatively and look for new ways to monetize the talents and charisma of our great young players. Also, to look ahead and plan for the next round of CBA discussions; as well as to effectively communicate with the league and its corporate partners. Finally, bring in good people to work on behalf of the players as a well-functioning team."

Final Thoughts: "I had a great deal of unfinished business when I departed the NHLPA. I'd welcome the chance to resume the work that we started and strive to take the NHLPA to the next level. My tenure ended due to an unworkable corporate structure that fostered division and dissension within the office. Fortunately, that structure has since been abandoned -- which occurred before Fehr took on the role. Now the platform is in place for a motivated and driven

Executive Director -- who loves the sport -- to do great things for the players."

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WILL THERE BE A KANE-MUTINY IN CHICAGO?

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has already registered his displeasure over the volcanic changes wrought with his team. "At the end of the day we're talking about a five-plus year process," Toews recently noted in the Athletic, among other talks about the upheaval. This marks Toews' 15th year in Chicago.

You don't need to be a cryptographer to discern that Toews wants out but, then again, who would want him at this stage of a fading career. Jon's sabbatical two years ago was both startling and depressing while his comeback this past campaign was far from reassuring.

By contrast, his longtime sidekick-buddy, Patrick Kane, is a right wing of another story.

He's got the goods although, not a heck of a lot of years ahead, but he should be appealing to any number of teams.

Unlike Toews, Kane has been more mum about the Hawks rebuild and that could mean any number of things; such as no boat-rocking on his part. No Kane mutiny for now.

But Patrick's next comments -- assuming he is pressed by media folks -- bear listening.

My view is that management will go for a trade taking the best offer before the season opens.

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P.S. ON PAUL KELLY:

Having covered the Players' Association since Alan Eagleson created the union, I've had an opportunity to deal with every union leader in one form or another. I've also read many critiques of the NHLPA's choices of leaders. Some of the rips have been harsh in terms of how executive directors were picked and how they performed.

Of all the choices, nobody comes close -- in my mind -- to Paul Kelly regarding all-around excellence and ability to move the union in the right direction. It would be a shame if those behind-the-scenes NHLPA power brokers overlook him this time around.

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WHO SAID IT? "I learned from watching 'Happy Days' on television." (ANSWER BELOW)

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* Nashville has a shot at hosting next year's entry draft and I'm good with that. Who wouldn't want a week in Music City?

* Jonathan Huberdeau says he's open to a long-term deal with the Flames and that's only goody-good news for the Flames.

* The faster GM Brad Treliving inks this Jonny, the quicker the runaway Johnny will be more easily forgotten.

* The feeling is that Nazem Kadri already has picked his new team. If so, it could be revealed as early as tonight; or next week. Your guess?

* Wise Words Department: I've wondered why Bill Guerin didn't go nuts trading on Free Agent Frenzy Day and after that.

* "A lot of mistakes are made on this (Free Agent Frenzy) day." BG added that "We (Wild) need one more body, but we can afford to wait."

* Hard To Believe Segment: UFA P.K. Subban is looking for work. His rep, Don Meehan, told the Montreal Gazette's Stu Cowan, there's interest among some teams.

* Naturally, Subban doesn't want to play "anywhere." Meehan insists, "There's a place for him." Okay, where, Donny, where?

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WHY DAVID QUINN IS GOOD FOR THE SHARKS -- OR IS HE?

Since Mike Grier was named Sharks g.m. he immediately was tasked with hiring a coach -- pronto! His choice -- David Quinn -- raised a few eyebrows, starting with the fact that Grier and Quinn both are Boston University buds -- old pals.

Nepotism?

While it might look that way, the fact remains that Quinn is qualified for the San Jose gig. And this, despite his failure to get the Rangers into the playoffs in the 2021 homestretch.

So, what's so good about Quinn in San Jose?

I put that question to former Hockey News editor-in-chief Tom Murray. "I like Quinn," said Murray, "and I thought he did a good job in New York -- but as a set-up guy for the clearly superior Gerard Gallant. There were issues with the (too tough) way Quinn handled the kids and with the vets; not enough communication.

"But he had a winning record, much of which was during Covid and playoffs in a Bubble. His other challenges included easing Hank (Lundqvist) out as a starter, then Igor and Georgie battling for succession. Remember, Adam Fox won the Norris under him. I think he's gonna be fine."

Matthew Blittner, author of "Unforgettable Rangers -- Games & Moments From The Press Box," followed Quinn from his arrival in Manhattan. At the time, some media types thought that David would be a tamer version of John Tortorella.

"That wasn't far off the mark," Blittner observed. "Quinn's 'in your face' approach -- especially during practices -- raised many eyebrows. The Sharks are in a similar position to where the Rangers were when Quinn was hired. The second time around, Quinn knows what works and doesn't. He knows he has to back off with how he treats the veterans. The Sharks kids will learn how to play a 200-foot game. With Quinn, San Jose is an important team to watch."

Nobody X-Rayed Quinn more intensely than author Sean Mccaffrey whose latest book will be "Tricks Of The Trade -- A Century Long Journey Through Every Trade In Rangers History." Sean believes that Quinn deserves the Sharks gig.

"The biggest knock on Quinn in New York was that he was too 'hands-on' with his players rather than treating them like the millionaires they are. He treated them like college kids. That said, he did a superb job when handling an unorthodox Blueshirts rebuild.

"Apart from the vets he inherited he had to groom a new generation including Igor Shesterkin, K'Andre Miller, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. Not to mention the end of the Lundqvist Era. In San Jose, he'll facilitate a more traditional rebuild without having to deal with the New York microscope.

"David always was open and honest, with his players and the media. More times than not coaches have more success during their second go-round. DQ will get the Sharks biting again -- even if it takes a season or two."

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THE USED FREE AGENT MARKET

Take your pick: Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny. Who goes next? I say Kadri, but where? As for Patrice Bergeron, expect a return to his Boston nest.

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RECOMMENDED READING ON GOALIES

TSN's Travis Yost wrote a fascinating dissertation on goaltending and his lede says it all: "Evaluating goaltending is one of the most difficult objectives in hockey." Read it if goalies interest you.

For me, Hall of Famer Glenn Hall had this bit of insight: "If you're not thinking three or four plays ahead, you're not finding goaltending Interesting."

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YAYS AND BOOS:

YAY TO THE KINGS: Nice job deciding to honor Dustin Brown with a statue and a jersey retirement. How many Ithaca, New York natives can make that statement?

YAY TO FILIP FORSBERG: Nice job marrying country music star Erin Alvey. They tied the knot this month at Dunderry Castle in Centre-Val de Loire in France. How many NHL stars can make that statement?

YAY TO THE SHARKS for the club's decision to retire Patrick Marleau's #12. The ceremony is slated for February.

BOO:: Thankfully, no boos today.

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WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH OLLI MAATTA?

The new improved -- he hopes -- Red Wing Dmn was --as a Maatta of fact -- disarmingly candid with tenacious Helen St.James of the Detroit Free Press.

"I have to be honest with myself about where I'm at," he said. "The last couple of seasons were not that great. I know I have a lot more in me." (I've got news for Olli; so does Steve Yzerman.)

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KEEPING UP WITH THE GOOD WORK OF BRENDAN BURKE

In a very short time, Brendan Burke established himself as a first-rate play-by-play guy doing Islanders games for MSG Networks. In what seems like a Nassau minute, he also was working for the networks, knocking off superior playoff broadcasts.

But since the lad does not like to sleep, he's branched off into baseball -- Yikes! -- and lately, he's been pinch-warbling about the Yankees, spelling my old pal, John Sterling.

So, here's the coincidence; When Sterling broke into the Met Area scene in 1972, he was doing what BB now is doing -- Isles games. (Matter of fact, I worked the Rangers-Islanders 1979 playoff series with Sterling. He invented the ISLANDERS GOAL! ISLANDERS GOAL! call that became -- and still is -- a classic. 

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MORE INTENSE HOCKEY IN ISRAEL -- IS IT POSSIBLE?

When the Maccabi Games -- alias Jewish Olympics -- introduced ice hockey as a competing sport the games originally were played at the Canada Centre in the tiny Northern town of Metula. At best, the rink could hold 1,500; perhaps 2,000 with standees.

But the games were so gripping that it was felt that a bigger venue was needed and one was found. It's the Pais Arena in Jerusalem, designed and built for basketball. But thanks to an NHL donation of a portable ice rink the last two Maccabi hockey tourneys were played at the 10,000-seat Pais building.

As games unfolded to a USA-Canada gold medal game, the finale was a sellout. And more than one hockey person raised the question -- could hockey on a pro level succeed in Israel?

My son, Simon, who watched his two daughters and son, develop into hockey players at Metula, believes it could happen.

"But only," he adds, "if more rinks are built so that an Israeli Junior League could be a starter.That would spread the hockey craze a lot beyond what we saw at Pais Arena."

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Edmonton Oilers star Jari Kurri on how he learned English.

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