Kelly ousted as head of NHLPA

CHICAGO -- Less than two years after his hiring, Paul Kelly is out as executive director of the NHL Players' Association.

The union announced Monday at its annual meeting that its executive board had voted "overwhelmingly" to remove Kelly. The executive board is made up of one player from each of the 30 teams.

"I would say after a long, exhausting and thoughtful debate, and thoughtful reasoning, a group of 30 engaged players made a decision that was overwhelmingly in favor of dismissal," NHLPA interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove told ESPN.com. "There was no one issue that you could point to. It was a combination of issues that have developed over a 21-month period that led the board to the conclusion that they just did not have the trust and confidence in Paul's leadership going ahead."

Hargrove delivered a report to the executive board Sunday night expressing his concerns with Kelly's leadership. Hargrove would not disclose to ESPN.com what those concerns where.

Hargrove's report wasn't the only information player reps were presented Sunday night. Player reps Matt Stajan (Maple Leafs), Mike Komisarek (Maple Leafs), Brad Boyes (Blues) and Andrew Ference (Bruins) were appointed back in Las Vegas in June along with a human resources consultant to do a review on the union's operations and all four players were involved in interviewing office staff. Their findings were also shared.

NHLPA executive Ian Penny on Monday was asked by the executive board to become interim leader and he accepted, Hargrove told ESPN.com.

Pat Flatley, the NHLPA's assistant director of player affairs, also resigned his post in the wake of Kelly's firing.

Flatley, who had been working with the NHL up until a year ago, was director of player affairs Glenn Healy's right-hand man.

Kelly held the job for less than two years. The union said it would immediately assemble a committee to find a replacement.

Kelly declined comment when reached by ESPN.com. Former NHLPA ombudsman Eric Lindros also declined comment to ESPN.com.

The actual reasons for Kelly's firing remain vague, and Hargrove admitted there was no one specific reason for the dismissal. It is believed Kelly's transgressions include his treatment of staff members in Toronto, his perceived closeness to the media and a feeling that he was too friendly with the league and its owners.

"Until we're able to inform all the players on exactly what happened, we're really not going to be too specific," Edmonton Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff, one of the 30 executive board members who gave Kelly his walking papers Monday, told ESPN.com when asked why the union made the move. "There's some information and some news that came our way that forced the hands of the executive board to go in a different direction."

Hargrove said the player reps were told they could wait until they saw their teammates before making a final decision.

"That was one of the options that the board members had," said Hargrove. "They were very familiar with that option. But given the circumstances, given the findings that were presented to them, given the debate, they took a decision. It's a decision they will feel very comfortable justifying with their fellow players once they see them in training camp."

According to the NHLPA's constitution, the player reps have the power to hire and fire executive directors without the consent of the entire membership.

Initial reaction from the hockey community was one of shock and, in many cases, disappointment.

"It's the culture of paranoia," a former player/former NHLPA executive committee member, who requested anonymity, told ESPN.com on Monday. "And what sign does this send to the league? Where's the stability at the union? It's a year or two away from needing to negotiate a new CBA."

Another former executive committee member was concerned that Kelly's dismissal would signal a return to the "tragic days" of the past that saw the sport lose an entire season (the 2004-05 lockout) because owners and players were at such odds. He told ESPN.com that reports of Kelly being too close to the NHL made no sense given that the players and league share in league revenues.

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he said.

Another former executive committee member said players should be standing in support of Kelly and let him do his job. "The timing of this is terrible," he said.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that this was "an internal union matter" and that the league did not know the facts of the decision.

"We are committed to continuing to work with the Players' Association in a constructive way and for the good of the game, regardless of who is in charge," he said. "We certainly wish Paul Kelly well in his future endeavors. He is a man that certainly cared for the game and wanted to grow it, and his legacy should reflect that."

Kelly was hired in October 2007 following the firing of Ted Saskin, who was alleged to have ordered the spying of NHLPA player e-mail in the midst of a membership uprising against his leadership.

Before joining the NHLPA, Kelly was a partner at Kelly, Libby & Hoopes, a Boston law firm
that specializes in internal investigations and complex civil and
administrative litigation. He previously served as an assistant
U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and was involved
in the investigation of former NHLPA leader Alan Eagleson.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com NHL writers Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun was used in this report.