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Park levels some blasts at NHLPA

Ex-Bruin chides Ference in criticism of Kelly firing

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / September 24, 2009

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Some three weeks after National Hockey League Players Association executive director Paul Kelly was fired - his fate sealed by 22 players who voted him out of office in the predawn hours of Aug. 31 - Bruins great Brad Park yesterday joined a growing chorus of NHL players, past and present, who believe the former federal prosecutor was suspiciously, if not wrongfully, terminated.

Park, 61, boldly responded to comments made by Boston defenseman Andrew Ference, who contended in yesterday’s Globe and on boston.com that Kelly, among other things, was the wrong man for the job.

“Let me tell Andrew Ference, one defenseman to another, he should spend more time worrying about going back to get the puck than to worry about Paul Kelly’s ability to do the job as head of the PA,’’ said Park, the Hall of Fame defenseman who spent 12 of his 15 NHL seasons as a vice president of the NHLPA. “When [Ference] was in junior, I assume he wasn’t going to college, so I ask, what makes him so [expletive] smart?

“They had a guy like Chris Chelios in that room who disagreed, told them to wait and think. Maybe guys like Ference should take time to listen to guys who are older and smarter.’’

Hours after the Bruins’ Wilmington workout concluded last night, veteran winger Mark Recchi sternly criticized the process that led to Kelly’s dismissal and noted growing unrest in the Boston dressing room over how it was handled.

“Look, I’m not the smartest guy in the world,’’ said the 41-year-old Recchi, long respected as one of the rank-and-file’s character individuals, “but the second I learned what happened in Chicago, I knew the process was wrong. It stunk. This should not have happened and we have to fix it. We can’t let this happen again.’’

According to Recchi, none of the league’s 740 players, other than the 27 who voted that morning in Chicago, knew that Kelly’s ouster was at hand. He said that was among the points made yesterday in a team meeting at Wilmington that was attended by everyone other than captain Zdeno Chara, who was given the day off by coach Claude Julien. Recchi said a number of Boston players emphatically expressed to Ference their displeasure with how it was handled.

“That’s 720 players who didn’t know what was going on,’’ said Recchi, noting that the latest developments have many believing the union is a laughingstock. “Why not tell guys in advance what’s going on? I don’t get it. A lot of guys don’t get it.

“I think Andrew understands now that the process is not right and something has to change. The process has to be looked at, how it went down. We want an internal investigation of how this was handled.’’

Kelly deferred all comments on the matter to his attorney, H. James Hartley, who issued a terse, but direct statement that said, “Paul’s long and accomplished career, and his history with the game of hockey, were instrumental to his hiring following a vote of 740 members of the Players Association, and served the players extremely well. An objective and bona fide review of the facts by neutral parties would shine light on what really happened and why.’’

Hartley’s statement pertaining to the 740 players who voted Kelly into office was in direct opposition to Ference’s remark to the Globe that the executive council felt no need to consult with the membership at large, in part, because only a handful were responsible for hiring Kelly.

“Guys that say, ‘Oh, you need to have everybody vote on something that big,’ well, we had five guys voting on hiring [Kelly],’’ Ference said. “I didn’t hear too many guys complaining about the process of hiring him. We didn’t have 740 guys vote on that.’’

Kelly’s election came as the result of a vote offered to all members of the NHLPA, who could have rejected him on the basis of his salary. Each player representative was asked to poll his members, asking if they would confirm a recommendation from within the NHLPA to hire Kelly. Each of the league’s 30 clubs voted to put Kelly into office.

Park, who lives north of Boston, feels the players remain easily persuaded to accept what they’re being told by people who don’t always have their true interests at heart. He speaks from experience. Park was a union vice president when its leader was Alan Eagleson, whose transgressions in office eventually led him to jail. Eagleson was brought down in large part because of Kelly’s handiwork as a Boston-based federal prosecutor.

“I think it’s the constant changeover you see [among players] and also because you don’t see high-end guys going to meetings, being involved,’’ said Park. “You don’t see the Modanos, Crosbys, Malkins. Generally speaking, the guys you see involved are guys who do it because no one’s inviting them to be out doing personal appearances. So it’s the low-end guys who are willing to spend the time in the summer.

“What you have then is guys who aren’t around long enough to be acclimated to the issues, how everything is supposed to work. So they end up trusting guys with degrees and listening to whatever they’re being told - and that’s exactly what we did with Eagleson. We trusted him, without taking the time to find out if he was a legitimate guy.’’

Ian Penny, the union’s general counsel, is now interim executive director. Kelly’s rapid cashiering began soon after Penny received a five-year contract extension, in yet another hurried vote, one that excluded Kelly - a fact that some players feel was a violation of the union’s constitution.

“So what you end up with is Penny gets a five-year contract and he’s not reviewed,’’ said Park, noting that part of Kelly’s dismissal was a review of his job, a review overseen by Ference, Mike Komisarek, Matt Stajan, and ex-Bruin Brad Boyes. “Huh? He’s not reviewed, but Paul is? Come on.

“You know, I have a new favorite expression: stupid is forever. I never met a part-time stupid person. They’re all full-time.’’

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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