Led by Chelios, players ask court to remove Saskin

10/3/2006 - NHL

CHICAGO -- Detroit Red Wings star Chris Chelios and other members of the NHL Players' Association asked a federal court Monday to help them oust the union's executive director and award them millions of dollars in damages.

The lawsuit filed in Chicago said executive director Ted Saskin and others "flouted the constitution and governing law to maintain their control" over the union.

Besides seeking a court order allowing them to remove Saskin, the unhappy members asked for unspecified millions of dollars in damages and punitive damages.

"Unfortunately, this lawsuit has become necessary after months of stonewalling by the union," Chelios said in statement. "On behalf of more than 100 NHL players, we continue to seek full disclosure by the NHLPA of the events leading up to Bob Goodenow's departure and the hijacking of the union by a handful of other players.

"We have repeatedly requested that Mr. Saskin agree to an investigation by an impartial third party and he has steadfastly refused to do so. We simply want to eliminate fraud within the players' union and restore democracy as provided by our constitution," Chelios said.

In Toronto, union spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said: "The NHLPA has not been served with a complaint but we're confident that these reported allegations are without merit." He declined further comment.

"The claims issued in the complaint are the same claims that have been made repeatedly over the last 13 months by this tiny group," Ted Saskin told The Canadian Press in an interview Tuesday. "These claims, including the offensive allegations of illegal conduct, are completely without merit as has already been demonstrated in many forums on a number of occasions."

A message was left at the office of Chicago attorney Richard L. Marcus, who filed the lawsuit.

The suit filed by Chelios, Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson and former player Trent Klatt represented the latest outbreak of internal bickering within the union that has been flaring since the lockout by owners that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

The lockout ended in June 2005 when the association accepted a collective bargaining agreement that for the first time contained a salary cap. The cap ran counter to the views that Goodenow expressed in dealing with the league on a contract.

Named as defendants were the NHLPA itself as well as Saskin and former union president Trevor Linden, fellow player Bill Guerin and
former players Vincent Damphousse and Bob Boughner -- all former members of the NHLPA's executive committee.

"It's the same tired old allegations that we've seen for a year now," Linden said Monday after finishing a practice with the Vancouver Canucks. "I'm tired of talking about it. The same allegations have been answered and explained. I think the players have a very good understanding of what went on and why."

The suit spotlighted the events of July 28, 2005, when Goodenow was dismissed with the union agreeing to pay off his contract. The same day, Saskin was hired as executive director "despite the fact that Saskin was never properly nominated for the position by the executive board."

The suit claims the switch of executive directors was done in violation of the union's constitution. It claims that even before then Saskin, previously the association's senior director of business affairs and licensing, had been using NHLPA funds to campaign for the top job.

Similar complaints had been expressed in the past and the union last year held a secret ballot among player representatives and executive board members on ratification of Saskin's contract as executive director.

The NHLPA announced Dec. 20 that the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP notified that 28 of 37 eligible ballots had been received. It said 24 of the 28 confirmed Saskin's position and contract as executive director.

The suit said once Saskin was installed in June 2005 the collective bargaining agreement containing the cap was whisked through the board in a conference call with just 12 hours' notice and that Saskin and others withheld key information from union
members, including a side letter containing details of how the cap worked.

"Despite express instructions from the executive board that no cap be negotiated, Saskin acting as primary spokesman for the NHLPA, agreed to a collective bargaining agreement containing a system which functions as a hard cap," the suit said.

The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.