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Toronto lawyer Sheila Block to conduct review of NHLPA head Saskin

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Toronto lawyer Sheila Block to conduct review of NHLPA head Saskin

The Canadian Press
By:

The Toronto lawyer was approved during a late Thursday night conference call between Saskin and the PA's executive board, which includes the seven-member interim executive committee and the 30 team-player reps.

A release from Chelios issued by a New York-based public relations company Friday night said Block would conduct, "a thorough inquiry, examination and review of the business and financial affairs of the NHLPA commencing Jan. 1, 2004, including the appointment of Ted Saskin as the executive director of the NHLPA."

"I know her resume and it's fairly good," Mike Johnson, the Montreal Canadiens' player-rep, said of Block. "There's probably 100 different lawyers you can get to do it, but I'm sure she'll do a good job.

"She's taking direction from us, so whatever we ask her to do, I'm sure she'll do it."

Former NHL Players' Association president Trevor Linden of the Vancouver Canucks disagreed with Block's appointment. He said Block acted for the dissident group of players led by Chelios for nine months.

"She's not an independent lawyer," said Linden. "The lawyer chosen has been working for the Chelios group.

"She was in Whistler at our (NHL Players Association) meetings, so I don't know how independent she is."

Linden said the review should be conducted by a "third party" that has no ties to either side of the dispute.

"I don't think (the review) is needed," said Linden. "I think most of the questions that were asked, they were all answered to satisfaction at Whistler. Why spend a bunch of money to figure out the same things that we figured out at Whistler?"

Saskin, who has not commented publicly on the probe, is believed to have stressed during the call the need for someone not previously involved in the dispute to conduct the review.

Block was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment, according to her assistant.

At least 19 teams signed a petition launched by a group of players led by Chelios and Edmonton Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson, seeking approval for an independent review of the circumstances under which Saskin was appointed after the lockout.

The dissident group alleges proper procedure wasn't followed in Saskin's hiring following the resignation of Bob Goodenow on July 28, 2005.

The inquiry was agreed to in part as a way to end an ugly dispute that has dragged on for some 17 months. Part of the deal was that the Chelios group not relaunch its lawsuit against Saskin, former union president Trevor Linden and others.

That lawsuit was dismissed Monday by a U.S. federal court in Illinois when the judge agreed with the union position that an Ontario court should hear the case, although one source said the Chelios group had already filed an appeal.

"We're definitely for an investigation," player rep Matt Stajan said of his Toronto Maple Leafs. "Pretty much everybody said, 'Let's do it, so we don't have rumours and lingering lawsuits around any more.'

"The goal is to have it done by the summer meetings. We don't want this thing dragging on."

The petition agreed to by the player reps named Block to conduct the probe.

Executive committee member Kevyn Adams of the Phoenix Coyotes, however, wondered Thursday about the wisdom of not hiring a mutually agreed upon third party for the matter.

But during the conference call, Chelios is said to have convinced enough player reps that she was neutral.

"Everyone's going to have an opinion," said Johnson. "There's 700 guys and not everyone's going to agree.

"But at the end of the day, the majority speaks. Obviously, the majority feel comfortable with her and trust her to do a good job and that's why we're getting her to do it."

One player close to the Chelios group said the ultimate goal of the review was not to unseat Saskin, but to restore a bottom-up decision-making process to the union which some think began to erode in the late 1990s under Goodenow's leadership.

But Adams and Marty Turco, the Dallas Stars goaltender who is also on the executive committee, said Thursday they didn't think there were any questions left to answer and that this was just the Chelios group's latest run at Saskin.

They have already forced another vote, filed complaints with the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board in the United States and launched the failed lawsuit.

They were hopeful the review would put an end to the questions and allow the union to move on, as are Johnson and Stajan.

"The PA would function optimally if everyone's behind it and pulling in the same direction and if the PA could focus all their attention on growing the game and helping the players," said Johnson. "This might take away a bit from that, but maybe we have to step back to move forward in a better manner."

Added Stajan: "Let's get to the bottom of it and let everybody know what happened - if anything did happen - and move forward as a union. It's something that's dragged on and we've got to put this behind us.

"It would have been nice if we could have done this a while back but now it's going to happen. By the summertime everything should be cleared up."

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With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal and Neil Stevens and Pierre LeBrun in Toronto.

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Toronto lawyer Sheila Block to conduct review of NHLPA head Saskin