Eric Lindros smiles at a news conference. (AP File \'01/Jeff Zelevansky)
"We're at a stage now where we've got a fresh sheet of paper and we have to take back control of our association," Eric Lindros told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
Lindros has been among a key group of players who have devoted their summer to help reshape the players' union, which holds its general annual meeting here Wednesday to Friday. The message this week will be one of rebuilding. A union that was bitterly divided by its acceptance of a salary cap and the hiring - and firing - of former executive director Ted Saskin now appears ready to finally move forward.
"I think one of the clear signals we're getting from the players is that there is a real spirit that we are turning the corner, that we're more unified, that the divisions of the past are in the past," said NHLPA associate counsel Ian Penney.
"We're almost like a team that's in a rebuilding phase and this is our first strides towards getting back to what was in effect a dynasty - the NHLPA had a great run and we want to get back to those days."
The executive board - the player reps - will first convene Wednesday. Then the rank and file, between 60 to 75 players are scheduled to gather Thursday and Friday. The numbers aren't great but the timing couldn't be worse. These are the last few days of summer before players head to training camp. The union had no choice on the timing, having to wait for the completion of Sheila Block's report.
Block was hired last winter to investigate Saskin's hiring, Bob Goodenow's firing as executive director and the way in which the collective bargaining agreement was struck to end the 2004-05 lockout.
The Toronto lawyer's report will be the agenda headliner this week along with an update on the search for Saskin's replacement.
The report should send a message to the players.
"A great deal of that is learning from the past," Lindros said of the Block report. "Not to get into specifics, but you read through it and there are some areas there that we have to truly address within our constitution to make sure that some of those events don't occur going forward."
The 34-year-old Lindros is on the NHLPA's constitutional review committee - the union is reshaping itself from top to bottom - along with Matt Stajan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Andrew Peters of the Buffalo Sabres and Craig Adams of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Lindros is also among the five players selected to head the search committee for a new executive director along with Chris Chelios of the Detroit Red Wings, Mike Cammalleri of the Los Angeles Kings, Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers and Robyn Regehr of the Calgary Flames.
"There's a number of great names out there," Lindros said of the search for a new union boss. "We want to get something done as quickly as possible but we want to make sure we do things correctly," he added. "We want to make sure mistakes aren't made. We want to make sure the person that we find is absolutely the right person for the job."
What the union also hopes to achieve moving forward is getting players to care more about their association. The apathy that reigned among some players is also part of the reason for the turmoil over the last few years. The key is to get more players involved.
"A lot of great work has been done towards achieving that goal," said Penney. "Clearly there's a lot more work to do to get a lot of these players back energized and enthusiastic about the direction the union is taking. But I think when they look at all the work their teammates have been doing to make it happen, I think it's going to go a long way towards getting this union back to where it should be and back to the days where it did have a high level of participation and involvement."
Lindros points to an idea that may fly.
"We're going to maybe have field reps," Lindros said. "Guys that are former players, we'd have one for every division, that are in constant communication with the players. They'd be making sure that there's a direct line of communication and if there's any problem or any issue, they're calling their field rep and addressing their issue as quickly as possible."
There would still be player reps, but the field reps would have more time to deal with issues and gather information.
"It's tough when you're playing five games in eight nights, travelling all over the place, and there's an issue on your team," said Lindros, the Dallas Stars player rep. "It's nice to have another resource to address those issues with you and for your teammates."
The bottom line, says Lindros, is that there must be better communication throughout the ranks.
"The more the guys know the more that they're going to want to be involved with it," he said. "Because it's their livelihood. It's critical that it functions properly. The better the association is the better the league is going to be and the better the game is going to be."