Like everyone else I was shocked to hear that the NHLPA executive had chosen to fire Paul Kelly even though it probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The Union was broken in the labour war of 2004-05 and it is weak, fractious and inherently unstable. Paul Kelly did not really get a chance to make it strong, united and stable.
As I have written several times since 2005, it is very hard to see a positive direction for this Union. The last thing most players want is another fight with the NHL. Even if that were not so, how can the NHLPA convince themselves they could ever win a fight with the owners now? They can’t – and won’t – trust each other. When push comes to shove, the owners will get whatever they want from the next CBA, just like they got what they wanted from the last one. In other words, the NHLPA has no real power and no good reason to exist except to protect the owners from antitrust law and to subsidize weaker franchises to preserve jobs.
Changing all that was Paul Kelly’s job and he clearly failed. What’s the possibility anyone else will succeed? Close to zero in my view, at least for the generation of players who lived through 2005. It really doesn’t matter whether the new Executive Director is more militant. Paul Kelly tried to manage his house union with a mostly cooperative approach and had he survived, he would have won nothing but the occasional crumb. The next Executive Director may take a more confrontative approach, but it will still be a house union and in a worst case, the hot air and empty threats will hurt revenues and thus hurt the player paycheques. In a best case, everyone yawns and he wins nothing but the occasional crumb.
Why does this organization exist? How many players would be better off if the NHLPA folded? Why do they want to be associated with what more than one pundit has declared to be a laughingstock? Who can blame any player who chooses apathy? We’re going to keep seeing NHLPA car wrecks like this one because the players are apathetic, and because the union is weak, fractious and inherently unstable.
Eric Duhatschek thinks the NHLPA should be burned to the ground and rebuilt from scratch. I’d just burn it to the ground.