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Campbell's Cuts: Kelly could return as NHLPA's executive director

Paul Kelly lasted a little less than two years as head of the NHLPA. (THN Archives)

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Paul Kelly lasted a little less than two years as head of the NHLPA. (THN Archives)

Right now, it's nothing more than talk and speculation. But there is a real sense out there that former NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly has never been closer to getting his job back than he is right now.

And if that were to happen, it would rectify one of the biggest blunders and injustices in the history of the association – and that's saying something.

This much we know: the possibility of coming back to head up the NHLPA has been informally discussed between Kelly and some of the members of the association. We also know that Kelly, along with former director of player affairs Glenn Healy and hockey-related revenue consultant Bob Lindquist, would seriously consider coming back to the association under the right circumstances.

One of those circumstances was created Friday when interim executive director Ian Penny maintained he was "constructively dismissed" by the association, which in layman's terms means he had so many powers stripped from him that he saw no choice but to resign. It's all semantics really and comes down to the compensation package he'll receive from an organization that is paying almost as many people not to work for it as it is for those to work for it.

Earlier this week, Penny sent a letter to the four-player board investigating the internal workings of the association – Rob Blake, Chris Chelios, Mark Recchi and Nicklas Lidstrom – that he felt he had been constructively dismissed already by the association. When nothing changed, Penny made it official Friday.                                                          

Another thing we know is that Penny's recently negotiated and contentious five-year contract extension worth about $3.5 million was not all guaranteed, so he certainly will not be receiving that amount. Penny is scheduled to make $650,000 this season with the extension kicking in next year and while there is a compensation component to the deal, it's believed to not be much more than is mandated by labor law.

Close observers of the NHLPA contend it will only be a matter of time before interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove and advisory board member Ron Pink, who were instrumental in leading the charge to oust Kelly, will either resign or be relieved of their duties. It's also believed the six divisional representatives, Dave Scatchard (Pacific) and retired players Rob Zamuner (Northeast Division), Joe Reekie (Southeast), Jim McKenzie (Central), Steve Webb (Atlantic) and Darby Hendrickson (Northwest), who were apparently hand-picked by former ombudsman Eric Lindros and were reportedly key liaisons between the ombudsman and the players during the move to oust Kelly, could be on their way out as well.

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Should that happen, the way could be cleared for Kelly to return to the NHLPA because most of those who were responsible for his demise would be gone. But it would take more than just that to get Kelly back. The association would have to revamp its constitution to avoid the possibility of a palace coup such as this one from ever happening again.

To be sure, the association is in more disarray than ever now. Much of the advisory board has resigned and it is essentially without a leader, although it has been rumored that Mike Ouellet, the association's chief of business affairs, could be tabbed as interim executive director until a permanent replacement is found.

The executive committee, however, will continue to have final say over any business and personnel matters. It is not expected to have another conference call until Nov. 9, but that could be moved up in light of the fact there needs to be someone in charge and accountable, at least on an interim basis.

None of Lidstrom, Chelios, Recchi or Blake is scheduled to play Friday night and are expected to deal with a number of matters in a conference call, including the temporary and permanent leadership of the NHLPA. But any move would have to be approved by the executive committee, which is made up of the 30 player representatives. In order to have an official vote, a minimum of 25 would have to participate and any motion requires a minimum of 20 votes.

Complicating matters is the fact that Saturday is the deadline for all teams to submit their new player reps. Most of the teams have done so already.

The return of Kelly is a possibility, for no other reason than he is familiar with the workings of the association and would be able to hit the ground running on the crucial task of rebuilding the organization.

We have to reiterate that this is not a done deal and may never be one, but the possibility of it is more tangible now than it has ever been.

Not to mention that it would be the right thing to do as the NHLPA looks to rise from the rubble it created for itself.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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