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Jim Boone's Blog: An open letter to Paul Kelly

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

September 2009

Paul Kelly

Former Executive Director

NHL Players’ Association

No Fixed Address

Dear Paul,

I was filled with a sense of optimism on Oct. 24, 2007, the day you were introduced as the new top guy at the NHL Players’ Association. Since that day, I’ve been carefully monitoring your words and actions. I often wondered if you were having second thoughts about accepting this role, leading 750 professional hockey players.

Over the past two years, you must have asked yourself why you decided to accept a hockey job in a dysfunctional industry. I silently cheered for you from the sidelines and awaited your inevitable tirade that would reveal your true raw feelings about the nonsense the NHLPA must endure while the NHL continued to make questionable strategic decisions.

Welcome to the hockey fan’s world, Paul.

I had no idea you faced so much inner turmoil at the NHLPA. I was certain you would be the leader of this union for many years. I dreamt that the business structure and entertainment value of NHL hockey would change under your calculated leadership. I thought great things would transpire before the careers of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Victor Hedman were over. I was confident the NHLPA would one day have more control of the NHL than the owners, not by hostile takeover, but by natural progression as business partners.

The labor dispute that killed the 2004-05 season was devastating for hockey fans. The veteran players, the many executives at the NHL and those leading the 30 teams are acutely aware that another labor conflict with games lost would be disastrous. Both parties, I believed, would certainly do their best to tweak the existing CBA and avoid additional work stoppages. I thought the bulk of the existing CBA was here to stay and no significant changes would be made to it over the next decade or two.

Boy, am I naïve. Obviously, your former team of players are ready to scrap again.

The current CBA is a partnership agreement. Players receive 56 percent of league-wide revenues and have some control on the direction of the game primarily by their representation on the competition committee. However, you must have recognized that the competition committee was a joke. There are player representatives on the committee, but the committee and its powers are weak and meaningless and amount to nothing more than a bone the NHL threw to the players during CBA negotiations.

The true power brokers are the GMs. (I’m still upset that the NHL and NHLPA refuse to allow even one fan representative on the committee as a lowly “observer,” which is shameful since fans are the lifeblood of the game.)

You, too, must have recognized the mirage that is the competition committee. The players also recognize they have little control over the direction of the game. However, you made a strategic decision to build professional relationships with league brass and attempt change from within. Unfortunately, all that bridge-building has collapsed for the NHLPA.

Under new leadership, how long will it take the NHLPA to learn to cha-cha as the league’s primary dance partner? What are the odds the NHLPA will recruit a new leader who surrounds himself with the best and brightest business analysts, sports marketing gurus and entertainment experts to help improve league revenues to increase its share of the take? What are the odds the players appoint a scrapper, and not a bridge-builder, in anticipation of another major battle with the league?

Under your leadership, I observed the NHLPA as a full-fledged financial partner in the NHL pie-eating contest; a follower on the competition committee; a frustrated organization reduced to antagonist on everything from player safety to the selection of preferred locations for NHL clubs; but, a strategic relationship builder with the league. You were on the right track trying to serve your membership best within a framework you inherited.

I believe the NHLPA executive committee made a drastic mistake by releasing you from your duties. I suspect this will come back to haunt them for many years to come, especially if they drop the gloves with the league again.

During your short term at the PA you were very kind to me and to the NHL Fans’ Association. Thank you.

Enjoy your freedom, Paul. You will be missed.

The co-founder of the NHL Fans' Association, Jim Boone is the chief operating officer for the Canadian Resident Matching Service and the president of Litnets Inc.

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