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Campbell's Cuts: Is review committee overstepping its bounds?

San Jose defenseman Rob Blake is one of the four-member review committee charges with examining the NHLPA's leadership (Getty Images)

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San Jose defenseman Rob Blake is one of the four-member review committee charges with examining the NHLPA's leadership (Getty Images)

Some see Saturday’s news that the NHL Players’ Association has appointed (another) new interim director and interim general counsel as a sign things are beginning to get back on track for the embattled players’ union.

Others, though, see it as a sign of further chaos and disarray and more proof the union might be the most dysfunctional in sports.

After Ian Penny resigned, claiming he was “constructively dismissed,” Friday afternoon, the association’s review committee of Mark Recchi, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Rob Blake announced late Friday night that director of business affairs Mike Ouellet had been appointed interim executive director and associate counsel Roland Lee had been named interim general counsel, at least until the 30-member executive board (made up of representatives from each of the NHL’s teams) could hold its next scheduled meeting Nov. 9.

There is a segment out there, however, that points out that the review committee is overstepping its boundaries in many ways and the appointments, which were done without the approval of the 30 player reps, goes against the NHLPA’s own constitution. Which is exactly what got the NHLPA into its current mess. Both former executive director Ted Saskin and Penny overstepped their boundaries according to the constitution, and there are those who think the review committee is doing the same thing.

When the committee of four players was established earlier in October, it was clearly given a mandate to review, “the current operations of the NHLPA in order to make recommendations to the executive board and to the committees that have been struck in respect of the constitution and the search for a new executive director.”

It also authorized the committee to, “take whatever actions it considers appropriate to carry out its mandate, including the engagement, hire and determination of terms and conditions of remuneration of such advisors as it may consider necessary to achieve the committee’s purposes.”

Nowhere in the resolution does it give the committee power to hire anyone, even on an interim basis, without the approval of the executive board. Yet, the review committee sent out a memo to all players and agents Friday night that read: “As you are all aware, the review committee has been authorized by a resolution of the executive board to conduct a review of operations. Given the resignation today of the interim executive director/general counsel Ian Penny, it is our obligation to the executive board to ensure that the NHLPA have a functional leadership structure in the office pending the next meeting of the executive board. We have asked the chief of business affairs Mike Ouellet to temporarily assume the functions of interim executive director. We have also asked associate counsel Roland Lee to temporarily assume the functions of general counsel. They have both accepted these roles on a temporary basis pending the next meeting of the executive board. We would ask you to provide Mike and Roland your full support as you carry on with normal duties.”

And another letter to the players dated last Wednesday does little to dispel the notion from some players that the review committee is acting in a heavy-handed fashion.

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First of all, there is the impression that the review committee will have full access to emails and phone records of staff members, but will not be interviewing them. In the letter, the review committee states, “This review will be conducted independently of those who have worked at the NHLPA during this embarrassing time for the association.”

As part of its Game Plan spelled out to the players, it goes on to say, “The advisory board, ombudsman and association staff must allow the review committee to fulfill its mandate. We have sent a memo to each of them regarding our expectations during this process.”

It then goes on to say, “The advisory board and ombudsman have been instructed to limit their activities to those specifically set forth in the constitution of the association and to avoid any contact with association staff or with individual executive board members until the work of the review committee is complete. The divisional player representatives have been asked not to incur any travel expenses until this review is complete. We have told the advisory board that, if they are needed during this process, they will be contacted by us or the executive board.”

The committee would also like to hear from players and agents on the issue. The Oct. 28 letter to the players said, “We intend to be as transparent and inclusive as possible. If anyone (staff, NHLPA certified agents, any player or any advisor to a player) has any suggestions, advice, questions or information that could assist us, we welcome them to contact us. All of you should tell them to feel free to do so. We welcome the input.”

But there are some players who believe that input is limited to what meets the review committee’s agenda. There are reports that players who don’t hold the same views as the review committee are not having their voices heard or their opinions considered.

If that is indeed the case, the review committee is being no different than its seemingly omnipotent predecessors. There is no doubt the four players on the committee are working for what they think is best for the association and what they believe is right, but history has been littered with many dictators who have had the same kind of agenda.

And why do things such as this happen? Because apathy reigns among the players. If there’s one positive, the coming months will tell us just how much these players care about their own association.

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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