"We're walking out of here with a positive attitude," Chris Chelios said as three days' of meetings wrapped up Thursday. "It's been a long two years. Obviously we've been damaged and there's been a crisis . . .
"I've been through the glory days, some of the best days, and those days are in the near future."
Chelios, to no one's surprise, was among the five players selected to head the search committee for a new executive director. He largely led the fight against Saskin's controversial hiring in August 2005.
"I feel an obligation to finish what I started," said Chelios, among 20 player reps who met this week at a downtown Toronto hotel.
"It's going to be difficult task but with the help of the players and our staff, we're going to make sure that we pick the right guy and move forward as a union," added the Detroit Red Wings veteran defenceman.
Mike Cammalleri of the Los Angeles Kings, Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers, Eric Lindros of the Dallas Stars and Robyn Regehr of the Calgary Flames will also head up the committee along with Chelios.
That group will start identifying and interviewing potential candidates, but has set no timetable to name the successor to Saskin, who was fired in May over accusations that he ordered the reading of players' e-mails. A full investigative report on the matter is expected in August from Toronto lawyer Sheila Block.
"We will not be rushed, that's what got us in this situation," Chelios said with a laugh, referring to Saskin's rushed hiring to replace Bob Goodenow. "So we'll take our time. It's going to be decided as a group."
The player reps also tackled the salary cap Thursday but wouldn't divulge any details to the media. Ian Penny, NHLPA associate counsel, is expected to finalize next season's salary cap figure with NHL deputy commission Bill Daly on Friday. The number is expected to be over US$50 million, up from $44 million this past season.
There's a feeling of optimism at the players' union that hasn't been felt in a long time. The NHL lockout divided the ranks and the wounds have been slow to heal.
"There really was a sense of optimism here this week, really looking forward and realizing that we've been through a really difficult time over the last 19 months," said Montreal Canadiens player rep Mike Johnson. "I think we have a lot of the processes in place to maybe protect us from any of this happening again.
"And that's an exciting possibility, to go pick a new executive director that can be a dynamic leader for us that can take us in places we've never been. Starting that process is exciting."
The first order of business, said Regehr, was to find an executive search firm that could help in finding proper candidates.
"I think we as a search committee should have an open mind to interview and to research as many people as possible in order to find the best executive director," said Regehr.
The Flames blue-liner says the group wants someone who is well respected in the business community, someone that has 10-15 years under his belt at his or her job, and "has a very good reputation, someone with integrity - I think that's something we've all learned is extremely important."
Lindros, who has taken an active role in the process, says finding someone who can relate to a hockey player and understand the life of a hockey player would also be important, but there's other issues as well.
"Transparency is a huge issue," Lindros added. "Culture might be a big issue. Accountability. It sounds redundant but some of the qualities are pretty simple, but you need them. You have to have honesty.
"We're not going to cut corners on this, we're going to get the right person."
The union hasn't had a president since Trevor Linden stepped down last summer. And he may not be replaced as the player reps look at different models of organizational structures.
"Who knows? Maybe that was a problem in the past," Lindros said of having a president. "Maybe you look at an executive director that talks openly and freely to all 30 members of the board . . . Something didn't work in the past."
The three-day meeting also included addresses from Donald Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association, respected labour lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo, former NBA union executive Charles Grantham, former NHLPA employee and hockey star Steve Larmer, former goalie and longtime NHLPA pension trustee Glenn Healy as well as Susan Foster, widow of former player and union crusader Carl Brewer.
In other words, lots to digest.
"Really this whole year has been an eye opener," said Nashville Predators player rep Dan Hamhuis, only 24. "I thought it would be a pretty cool job at the start, just hand out some clothes at Christmas. But it's turned into quite a bit of work. It's been an interesting learning experience for me, I've learned a lot about the way the NHLPA works, and not only that but just about business and life in general.
"Throughout this there's been some tough decision-making. After these three days, it's a real positive feeling."
The next gathering for the union will be the Aug. 29-31 annual general meeting, also here in Toronto, where it's hoped hundreds of players will show up.
"The August meetings will be big," said Lindros. "The more people you have, the merrier. We're going to banging around a bunch of issues. And we'll see where we stand in terms of our search."