Ference defends union action
Trust was lacking with Kelly, he says
WILMINGTON - As a father of two, a player rehabbing from offseason groin surgery, a guest speaker at Canada’s New Democratic Party convention, and a defenseman entering the final season of his contract, Andrew Ference had other things to do this summer aside from delving into the dirty areas of the NHL Players Association.
But after player concerns with executive director Paul Kelly were raised during the NHLPA’s June meetings in Las Vegas, Ference, the Bruins’ union representative, was appointed to a special committee, along with Toronto’s Mike Komisarek and Matt Stajan and former Bruin Brad Boyes. The committee kicked off a fact-finding process that helped lead to the ouster of Kelly Monday after a vote by the 30-member executive board. It was an eye-opening firing of an executive director brought in to clean up the NHLPA’s post-lockout rubble, one who lasted less than two years on the association’s payroll.
Ference and the committee members spent approximately a week in the NHLPA’s Toronto office interviewing employees before approaching the executive board.
“It was a tough summer because you don’t want to have to deal with those issues,’’ said Ference. “You want a healthy working union and complete trust in your leadership. We were severely lacking that.
“It was unfortunate that we had to deal with that for such a matter of time. But it eventually got to the point, and after talking among the group of guys, the decision had to be made.
“We’re explaining it to guys here and bringing guys up to speed on events and what transpired. There’s complete understanding of why we had to do it. Nobody wants to go through that.’’
Ference declined to provide details on the reasons for Kelly’s firing, citing confidentiality issues and the need to inform teammates. Kelly, who was raised in Newton, also didn’t specify why he was fired when he was interviewed by AM 640 in Toronto.
“Walking in, I was concerned and apprehensive based upon the way things had evolved in the prior hours,’’ Kelly said of receiving news of his termination at a Chicago hotel Monday at approximately 3:30 a.m. “Walking out, shock, extreme sadness, disappointment - the range of human emotions that any person would feel.’’
The most significant issue facing the players is what takes place after 2010-11, the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement. The union was hopeful that Kelly, who preferred a nonconfrontational approach with the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman, would lead the way in negotiating a player-friendly CBA. Ference said that in contrast to some reports, Kelly’s relationship with Bettman was not related to his removal.
“The firing had absolutely nothing to do with him being cozy with Bettman or him being proactive toward looking for a solution - any of that,’’ Ference said. “That’s something that was valuable. That was one of his great assets to us, that he did have a good relationship and working toward that. That’s part of the reason we gave him the job in the first place.
“It’s definitely not the reason why we got rid of him, because having a good business relationship and a good working relationship with the league is essential to avoiding a work stoppage. We’ve been through the militancy.’’
According to a source familiar with the situation, former NHLPA ombudsman Eric Lindros, who resigned in February, led the anti-Kelly movement. General counsel Ian Penny, named the interim executive director, also clashed with Kelly. During his interview yesterday, Kelly did not mention either Lindros or Penny while praising director of player affairs Glenn Healy and assistant director of player affairs Pat Flatley, among others, as “superb people.’’
Ference said Lindros was not involved in the decision.
“He’s so far removed from the daily business of the PA,’’ Ference said. “He was ombudsman, and that’s true. He had his issues with Paul Kelly, and that’s true. But you’ve got to trust me when I say that he has absolutely no say in the PA right now. None. That’s just the reality of it.’’
Ference said the NHLPA hopes to hire a full-time replacement in three to five months.
“In the meantime, we have an interim that’s been there forever and always been 100 percent for making sure that the players are getting the best thing possible,’’ Ference said. “Ian Penny is the most valuable guy to our union. In the meantime, he’ll help. We have Glenn Healy, who’s been a tremendous addition as well.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.