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NHLPA votes to oust Hargrove, Pink, but can't make it official

No heads have rolled in the NHL Players' Association offices over the firing of Paul Kelly yet, but it's clear that many of the same players who voted to fire Kelly in August have had a significant change of heart.

According to several sources close to the situation, there were not enough members of the executive board on the call to fire ombudsman Buzz Hargrove and advisory board member Ron Pink, but the players who were on the call did conduct a straw poll. In order for there to be an official vote, there must be 25 voting members available and there were fewer than 20 on the call at the time.

If anything, the straw poll supports the notion the NHLPA is likely in for a significant housecleaning at some point in the near future. In the unofficial vote, players reportedly voted 17-1 to re-work interim executive director Ian Penny’s five-year contract and voted overwhelmingly to relieve Hargrove and Pink of their duties. Had the board really wanted to press for an official vote, it would have had 72 hours to conduct the vote, so the results were not binding in any way.

Penny, Hargrove and Pink were the driving forces behind the ouster of executive director Paul Kelly in August, a firing that has created enormous controversy and embarrassment for the players. They were also instrumental in retaining former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry to prepare a report on the Kelly firing which came to the conclusion the NHLPA had just cause in firing Kelly. It was later revealed former executive director Alan Eagleson had contributed to McMurtry’s political campaigns and that McMurtry was a witness for defense in Eagleson’s criminal trial, in which Kelly was the prosecutor. The NHLPA was unaware of the Eagleson ties and McMurtry did not disclose them.

How long Hargrove and Pink remain in their posts - and Penny’s contractual status with the NHLPA - are matters of conjecture. It will almost certainly come up once again in a future call when there are enough player reps to vote on the issue; at least 20 have to vote in favor of dismissal in an official vote for it to take effect.

One source said one of the reasons there weren’t enough players on the call was that Penny and Hargrove used the first two-and-a-half hours of the meeting to discuss the situation surrounding Kelly and other union business, including an impassioned plea from Hargrove to keep his job, a part-time position which pays him $130,000 a year. Penny and Hargrove were then asked to leave the call and several players bailed on the call as well, leaving the union without enough voting members to hold an official vote. Before that the players did, however, come to an agreement they would try to pursue a private settlement with Kelly.

Even though they did not have voting privileges because they are not player reps for their teams, sources said both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were on the call for a period of time.

In other union news, Andrew Ference, a leader in the charge to fire Kelly, has effectively been ousted as the Boston Bruins player representative and will no longer be a member of the executive board. Ference will be replaced by Mark Stuart. The move came after Mark Recchi reportedly made it known to his teammates that he would contest Ference’s spot and run against him in a vote among the Bruin players. Patrice Bergeron was appointed alternate player rep.

A source said Ference realized he would not win the election and bowed out of the race to avoid the embarrassment of losing. Players say it is extremely rare for a player to be replaced as a rep unless he steps down on his own and another player replaces him.

“I’ve never seen it (a player rep being contested) happen in my career and I’ve never heard of it happening before, ever,” a former player said.

The same thing was apparently about to unfold in New Jersey when Brendan Shanahan announced he would contest David Clarkson, who voted in favor of firing Kelly, for his spot as the Devils player rep. That plan went by the wayside when Shanahan parted ways with the Devils last week.

Nominations for all 30 player representatives were scheduled to close Tuesday night.

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