When the NHL Players’ Association hired Paul Kelly two years ago, four of the five players on the search committee had the now-former executive director as their first choice.
The fifth – Calgary Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr – did not. And although he doesn’t feel validated by Kelly’s dismissal two weeks ago, Regehr wasn’t shocked to see his union change course, because he remembers the parameters the search committee set out originally – parameters Kelly never could live up to.
“Being part of the search process, we were focused on hiring one of two types of people: either a really good labor negotiator, who could be strong on collective bargaining, or more of a business type, a CEO who built a business and increased assets,” said Regehr, who was joined by Shawn Horcoff, Chris Chelios, Eric Lindros and Mike Cammalleri on the search committee.
“Out of our group of five, I was the only one who didn’t have Paul as my first choice, because he fell into neither one of those categories. So I really didn’t understand why we ended up going that way, but it was a matter of four guys in the search group who wanted Paul.
“I voiced my concerns, but I wasn’t changing anyone’s mind. When it came down to it, the majority won out.”
Regehr never publicly spoke out about his qualms at the time of Kelly’s hiring, as he believed Kelly’s conciliatory nature might work well alongside NHLPA hawks left over from previous administrations.
“The reason I thought Paul might be OK was that we already had a real experienced labor side in the union with a guy like (NHLPA general counsel) Ian Penny and you thought one guy could play off the other,” Regehr said. “But it just didn’t work out – the relationship there was very strained early on.”
Regehr wouldn’t confirm rumors Kelly was dismissed for taking inappropriate steps to view union-related documents. But he vigorously defended the executive committee for investigating complaints and acting quickly to address them.
“We had some serious issues that were brought to our attention a while back,” Regehr said. “And a few months ago we had an independent party come in and present a review to the board, a completely unbiased opinion on how the (NHLPA) office is running. It was important to get as much information as possible – and once we had it, we either had to continue on the same path or make changes.
“We’ve got a lot of negative publicity and criticism since the change was made, but that’s coming from people who don’t know the whole story.”
Regehr remains of the opinion the Players’ Association doesn’t have to and shouldn’t return to the authoritarian regime of Bob Goodenow by replacing Kelly with someone similar to the legendarily stubborn former NHLPA boss.
“When you look back at history, you have to learn your lessons,” Regehr said. “If you look back at Bob, he did a really good job the first time he had to negotiate. But the second time, his relationship with Gary had gotten so bad, it became a win-or-lose type situation with those guys.
“There’s got to be a better way to look at the process – meaning there’s got to be a way the players can be satisfied while the league is happy also.”
Regehr takes no joy from seeing Kelly forced out. But he is pleased to see the players take matters into their own hands after having one or two executives holding the union’s reins for so long.
“Nobody is happy that we’re in the situation we’re in,” Regehr said. “You look back now on everything that’s happened and you really wish you didn’t have to go through it. But hopefully we come out of this stronger than ever.”