Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference is his team’s NHL players association representative on the 30-member board that voted overwhelmingly to remove Paul Kelly as executive director of the NHLPA on Monday morning. In the aftermath of Kelly’s dismissal, the NHLPA has taken a PR beating, and on Tuesday afternoon, Ference wanted to set the record straight — or at least give as much of the NHLPA’s side of the matter as possible at this time.
“Legally, we can’t discuss all the matters that were presented as grounds for this decision, but we stand by it, and it was an almost unanimous decision and is not something that just happened overnight,” Ference told NESN.com. “This has been bubbling for a while now, and when we gathered the information together, there was simply stuff there that couldn’t be ignored.”
While Ference, his fellow board representatives, the NHLPA advisory board and Kelly remained tight-lipped about what that information is, he realizes the hits will keep coming and the NHLPA will be questioned for its decision. But he believes that once he and the other 29 board representatives are able to inform their teammates why this major decision was made, and they understand what it was based on, the truth will finally surface. Until then, Ference and the rest of his union members are prepared for more negative PR.
“Obviously, this was a frustrating decision to make, and it’s frustrating because we can’t divulge what went on in this meeting, but we made a serious decision here, and we can’t let the public perception affect how to decide things,” said Ference, who has been involved and on top of NHLPA matters since before the 2004-05 lockout that canceled a full NHL season.
Ference, however, did make a point to deny what was told to this scribe by various sources and printed in my most recent column on Monday.
“As for what’s being said out there about Buzz Hargrove or Ian Penny, Ron Pink and Eric Lindros, those are just complete fabrications,” Ference said. “Lindros had nothing to do with this. When he resigned, he was finished with official business as far as the union goes. Did he and Kelly disagree when he was ombudsman? Yes, but he had nothing to do with this decision.
“There were no personal agendas, I can tell you that. This was based on what our review found and things I unfortunately cannot discuss at this time. But all of that stuff is crazy.”
An NHLPA spokesperson also said the claims that Lindros and Penny took money from the NHLPA “have no basis in fact.”
According to Ference, questions over Kelly’s leadership arose at the NHLPA meetings in Las Vegas this past June, and a decision was reached to look at how business was being conducted within the NHLPA. What they found from this overview, according to Ference, was the basis for the decision to fire Kelly. Ference adamantly denied that their reasons for making this move were because they thought Kelly was “too soft” or “too cozy” with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy chief Bill Daly.
“That was not the reason we fired Paul,” Ference said. “Why would we not want a proactive relationship with the league? This idea that we want a more militant leader or hard-liner in charge is crazy. Do we want our leader to be soft? No. But of course we want to have a line of communication with the league, and we realize what another work stoppage could do. That’s the last thing we want.”
Ference again reiterated his frustration over the decision and the NHLPA’s belief that it was the right decision.
“This obviously isn’t an easy time and wasn’t an easy decision to be made,” he concluded. “But we feel we constructed a thorough assessment of what was going on, and based on that, we made this decision.”
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