by PuckStopsHere on 02/05/09 at 02:02 AM ET
In the history of the NHLPA one of the clear problems has been a lack of oversight for the head of the union. Alan Eagleson was embezzling money from the organization and Ted Saskin was spying on players email. This should not happen with any reasonable level of oversight. Even the non-corrupt NHLPA head Bob Goodenow was replaced because his hardline stance with the owners had lost support of the players. There has to be a route of oversight to have the player’s concerns heard by the union head.
The solution to this problem was to appoint an ombudman to oversee the NHLPA. Eric Lindros was chosen for this position. He has recently resigned from that position. He was not well received in that position by the rank and file of the union.
Last summer at the NHLPA meeting, Lindros had a list of charges that he felt must be addressed. Union leadership supported current head Paul Kelly and didn’t give any time to Lindros’s charges. This was merely Lindros doing his job, but it was seen as insubordination by the rank and file of the NHLPA. The responce to the situation undercut Lindros and the position of ombudsman and led to his eventual departure.
The problem appears to be that NHL hockey players are not interested in union politics. Instead they are, unsurprisingly, interested in playing hockey. This disinterest in the union has been what has allowed corruption to exist in the NHLPA throughout most of its history.
Recently, Paul Kelly has publically suggested that there might not be a need for an ombudsman position. In theory, this might be true as long as he runs things with player’s concerns in mind and with a high ethical standard. The practise of doing that is not well-established in the NHLPA. Since the ombudsman position was designed as a check in Kelly’s power, he is probably the last person in the world that should suggest its removal.
The NHLPA created a valuable check to the power of its head. This check is something that they would have been well served to have had in place in the decades prior to its creation. Probably an ombudsman could have prevented the wrongdoings that led to the dismissal of Eagleson and Saskin. If Kelly feels that Lindros was making his job harder to do because he was forced to carefully dot all his i’s and cross all his t’s and otherwise justify all his moves that was evidence that Lindros was doing his job.
The information regarding Lindros’s departure is not entirely clear at this point. It is entirely possible that he was the wrong man to fill the ombudsman role, but his departure leaves big problems for the NHLPA. Where does it go from here? Do they give up on the check that an ombudsman position offered? That would be a bad move. Where do they find a replacement for Lindros when it is clear that his position was so poorly received by the union? Any potential new ombudsman is likely to be a strong Paul Kelly supporter at this point and that would compromise his ability to impartially do his job. Would you accept the ombudsman position given how quickly Eric Lindros was marginalized and eventually turfed for doing his job? I wouldn’t see it as a bright career move if the position was offered to me.
The NHLPA has to have transparency. It has to have checks on the power of the union head. History shows that without those checks, there have been too many problems. The ombudsman position will make it harder for a union head to run the union and that is the correct way for it to be. The NHL players have to be willing to accept these checks without their “one for all and all for one” nature to see this as an attack on the union. Without this it is only a matter of time before the next scandal that threatens the NHLPA. Without this, the NHLPA will not serve its union members reliably.
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