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Interim executive director Ian Penny and NHL Players' Association part ways

TORONTO - The revolving door at the NHL Players' Association continued to spin Friday as Ian Penny's brief run as interim executive director came to an end.

"Interim executive director Ian Penny informed the NHLPA staff and the NHLPA executive board earlier today that it is his position he has been constructively dismissed as interim executive director of the NHLPA and can no longer work in the present circumstances," the NHLPA said in a three-paragraph statement.

"Effective today, Ian Penny is no longer employed by the NHLPA."

There was no immediate word on who would take over. Messages left with the NHLPA were not immediately returned.

Citing sources, TSN.ca said Steve Larmer, Dan O'Neill and Ron Lloyd of the NHLPA's advisory board resigned Thursday night and legal counsel Paul Cavalluzzo resigned Friday morning.

Penny served as NHLPA general counsel before taking the interim executive director job when Paul Kelly was relieved of his duties on Aug. 31.

Kelly succeeded Ted Saskin, who was let go in May 2007 amid allegations of monitoring players' email. Saskin had taken over when Bob Goodenow stepped down under pressure from the players in July 2005, only two weeks after a collective bargaining agreement was signed to end the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

In a letter to the NHLPA executive board, obtained by a national news agency, Penny cited a "poisonous office environment" and "leaking of internal information" in recent weeks.

Penny cited opposition by veteran player Chris Chelios repeatedly in the letter.

"For those who want to believe that this memorandum is an attempt to undermine or avoid the review process, I suspect they cannot be convinced otherwise," Penny wrote. "The truth of the matter is that I would have no difficulty being held accountable in an environment where a fair and balanced assessment can be made. Unfortunately, that environment does not exist.

"This is due to the steady campaign of misrepresentations that has impaired the trust that needs to exist between me and the membership."

Penny was to serve as interim executive director while the association put together a search committee to identify potential candidates for a replacement. But Penny reportedly recently sent out an email to the association's executive board, which consists of one player representative from each of the 30 NHL teams, saying he had been effectively dismissed.

Last week, that board voted in favour of forming a committee to review union operations.

NHL veterans Rob Blake, Nicklas Lidstrom and Mark Recchi and former Wings defenceman Chelios were named to the committee. They have since contacted NHLPA members to outline a plan to strengthen the association, and look to eventually submit recommendations to the executive board.

In its statement Friday, the NHLPA addressed reports that questioned the stability of the organization.

"There have been inaccurate media reports circulating today that the NHLPA has suspended operations," the statement said. "The NHLPA staff continues to work very hard on behalf of the players in all areas of the association's business and will continue to do so going forward."

A new NHLPA leader would have to deal with upcoming negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. The post-lockout CBA expires in September 2011, although the NHLPA has an option to extend it for one year.

Another issue will be differences with the league on Olympic participation. The NHL is leaning against having its players involved after the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, while many players want to continue playing at the Olympics.

The players' organization has been split into factions since the lockout, when for the first time a salary cap was accepted by the players.

And it has lost a string of staff in recent months.

Following Kelly's departure, Glenn Healy stepped down as director of player affairs. Assistant director of player affairs Pat Flatley and Bob Lundquist, a union accounting consultant, also resigned.

In February, former star player Eric Lindros resigned as the association's ombudsman and sent a letter to members detailing his grievances with Kelly.

The NHLPA was formed in 1967 with Eagleson, a Toronto lawyer, as executive director. But while salaries rose and NHL players for the first time took part in international hockey under his reign, he came under suspicion for continuing to act as a player agent and as a promoter of events like the Canada Cup.

Eagleson resigned in 1992 and later was found guilty on racketeering and fraud charges in the United States and fraud and theft charges in Canada. He served six months of an 18-month prison sentence in Canada and was disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada. He was replaced by Goodenow.

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