WILMINGTON, Mass. — Last year, the Bruins were greeted on the first day of their informal workouts with the news that NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly had been ousted from his post.
The fallout from that decision has been felt throughout the league, with the union still seeking a replacement more than a year later. The Bruins' locker room was especially affected, with Andrew Ference eventually opting not to seek reelection as the team's player representative.
Fellow defenseman Mark Stuart took over the post, and despite a year of turmoil within the union ranks, he has helped keep the Bruins informed of the ongoing issues in the search for a new union chief and the lead up to the next round of CBA negotiations.
As the Bruins began a new season with their first captain's practice this year at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday, Stuart discussed the labor issues facing the game and his plans to remain active within the union, which include a desire to continue serving as the club's player rep.
"We have to vote on it, so we'll vote after training camp, so it could be me or it could be someone else," said Stuart, who signed a one-year, $1.675-million deal to stay with the Bruins this summer.
As for the overall leadership of the union, Stuart noted that no final decision had been made on a new executive director. Multiple reports last month had former MLBPA head Donald Fehr prepared to take the post, but Stuart stated that no vote on Fehr was scheduled at this point. Stuart did praise Fehr for his help in an advisory role with the NHLPA in recent months.
"Nothing right now," said Stuart when asked for an update on Fehr's status. "He's been helping us out this summer. He's been a huge help with the different things we've been looking at. We're just talking right now and seeing what direction we want to go in."
The vote on hiring Fehr will likely come after training camp, once the players are all together and have all the information presented to them.
"I think it's important for all the guys to be informed," said Stuart. "It's obviously tough in the summer because everybody's all spread out. But I think training camp is a good time to inform the guys, even some of the younger guys. Maybe they won't be here, maybe they will, it doesn't matter. They need to be informed as well. It's good to start them early too, get them involved. Any time you can make decisions as a group, as a team, it's the best thing."
Even without a new executive director, the union has had a busy summer. The biggest issue was the dispute over the structure of long-term deals in the wake of the league's rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk's heavily front-loaded, 17-year, $102-million deal with the Devils. An arbitrator upheld the league's decision, but the sides finally agreed to allow his new 15-year, $100-million deal last week. At the same time, the league and union agreed on new provisions to close loopholes in the CBA, placing restrictions on future long-term deals while agreeing to end investigations into other similarly structured contracts, including the Bruins' seven-year, $28.05-million deal with Marc Savard.
"I think it was nice to get a rule in place so at least those players know, but also it helps the GMs to know what they can and can't do," said Stuart. "It was kind of a gray area there. It always helps to have the rules in place.
"I think it was fair," added Stuart. "It wasn't really specified before, so I think the NHL and the NHLPA did the right thing by talking and coming to an agreement. Now, there's a rule in place that's pretty clear-cut. There wasn't anything in there before so it was kind of hard to see if those deals were legal or not."
Stuart knows coming to an agreement on that issue doesn't necessarily mean that the players and owners will be able to come to an accord on a new CBA as easily when the current deal expires in 2012, but he remains hopeful that another work stoppage can be avoided once new leadership is in place.
"It's separate, but at least we're going in the right direction," said Stuart. "I'm pretty optimistic after the summer with more people getting involved and guys paying attention and with [Fehr] helping us out, we're hoping going to name some people in these positions soon and will just keep going in the right direction."
Another issue that has become a source of contention within the players' ranks is the fact that so much of their salary is tied up in escrow by terms of the CBA, a subject that was put into the media spotlight on Monday when Tampa Bay goalie Dan Ellis ranted about it on Twitter. Last year, 18 percent of NHL salaries were held in escrow, and Stuart doesn't expect the players to get more than "a little" of that back. But he also doesn't see much use for millionaire players complaining about it five years after agreeing to that stipulation in the current CBA.
"It's not something I think too much about because there's not much you can do about it," said Stuart. "Obviously it upsets guys, but it's just part of the game.
"They give us a projection at the beginning of the season," added Stuart. "They usually project it higher just to cover their bases. But that's the way it goes. It's part of the game right now. We've just got to make sure we put a good product on the ice so we get more fans and sell more tickets and stuff like that. There's nothing you can really do about it."