Two agents with contrasting views have spoken out amid news that NHL player agents have expressed unhappiness with the NHL Players’ Association’s leadership.
“The NHLPA has an unfortunate history of eating their own,” said Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey, who joined Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports on Thursday to discuss the rumblings of discontent.
Asked whether he felt something untoward might be going on in the NHLPA — there has been talk that the agents in question are looking for information about the union’s finances — Walsh responded: “Absolutely not.”
According to Walsh, a small group of player agents have been unhappy with the union’s leaders over issues such as the 15.5 per cent escrow players must pay, but those agents’ complaints, he said, are misplaced.
“I think it’s ridiculous to point the finger at [NHLPA executive director] Don Fehr now about that kind of question,” said Walsh, who noted that a group of players were responsible for ushering in a salary cap with escrow during the ’04-05 lockout.
“That’s a fact. It happened,” he said. “And we’ve been dealing and living within that system since. And there were numerous agents who were in collusion with that group back then, but I don’t remember many people standing up afterwards, and even during that process, saying, ‘This is wrong.’ I don’t recall that. And I was there. I did.”
Walsh said NHL players are forced to live with a system put into place “based on the actions of people in ’04-05,” and added that, in his opinion, Fehr has always canvassed a wide group of players for feedback into the union’s processes and decisions.
The agent, whose firm represents between 90 and 95 NHL players on an average day, said he has not heard complaints from any of his clients about the NHLPA or the union’s leadership.
“I’m curious as to where this is coming from,” Walsh said. “From what I’m hearing, it’s not player-driven, it’s agent-driven — and that’s dangerous.”
Meanwhile, Anton Thun, one of the agents involved in calling out the NHLPA’s current processes, joined McCown on Thursday to share his perspective.
According to Thun, many players are unhappy with the union, and a group of 15 to 20 players have stepped forward to demand action.
“There are players whose names you would very much recognize that are concerned,” Thun said, declining to name names.
Thun, along with two other agents, has been working to get a resolution passed in order to create a players’ committee within the union.
“There are a number of players who are concerned,” he said. “They’re looking for competent, transparent, successful advocacy for the players. And they have concerns.”
Thun cited high escrow, the failure to negotiate players’ participation in the Olympic Games, and World Cup of Hockey revenues as issues that have “opened up a bunch of players’ eyes.”
He added that the players are simply asking questions and “struggling for answers.”
“There’s a group of players who have reached out to us,” he said. “They’ve asked questions of the NHLPA and they are the ones who’ve not gotten satisfactory answers. And they’ve reached out to us to try to find solutions. So we tried that. We’ve spoken to the NHLPA, and really have gotten very little response, so the players have basically said we think we need a little bit better advocacy.”
Thun noted that the proposed players’ committee, which used to exist within the union, is authorized under the union’s constitution. The committee would review the NHLPA’s procedures and decisions and look for ways to improve. Former NHLer Chris Chelios has been discussed as a possible ombudsman.
“We’ve had conversations — we being myself, Ritch Winter, Kurt Overhardt, with people at the NHLPA,” Thun said. “Chris Chelios has had numerous conversations with Don Fehr, and they want nothing to do with it.”
The creation of a players’ committee would require approval by the executive board.
“This is a proposed resolution that the executive board has to vote on, and if the executive board chooses not to set up this committee and not to appoint Chris Chelios as an ombudsman to oversee the committee, that’s their choice,” he said. “But there’s nobody ramming anything down anybody’s throats. There is absolutely zero witch hunt.”
Walsh, when asked for his thoughts on the possibility of an NHLPA ombudsman, said he felt the position was both unnecessary and counterproductive.
“Historically, both with Eric Lindros and Buzz Hargrove, there seemed to have been an internal conflict within the NHLPA constitution that would set the ombudsman up against the executive director,” he said. “And at a time when the PA and the players’ singular focus should be preparing for the next round of collective bargaining, I don’t think we need to be creating positions that are going to start, or possibly start, a new round of internal conflict or power centres.”