Paul Kelly, the former Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday since being fired from that post earlier in the week. He joined TSN's Darren Dreger and Bill Watters on AM 640 in Toronto to discuss his firing and his future.
"I hope the NHLPA is in a better place today than it was when I came on board 21 months ago," said Kelly. "I have enormous respect and admiration for the players; enormous respect for the staff at the NHLPA, who are a bright, energetic, fabulous group of people to work with. At the start of this interview I just want you to understand that I've made a conscious decision here to confine my comments to certain matters and I do so out of respect for the players, for the association, and for the game of hockey which I so dearly love.
"I just want to say that my efforts at the NHLPA were always designed and intended to protect players. It was the first order of business in my mind at all times; it's what I woke thinking and what I retired at the end of the day thinking about," continued Kelly. "So first, I wanted to protect the players at every turn, and the next thing that drove me was, what is good for the game? What's best for our sport? What grows our sport? What gets people more involved in our sport, which brings more views and listeners to our sport? Those are the things that motivated me."
Kelly recounted the events that took place on Sunday and Monday where a 30-man committee of player representatives voted to remove him from his position.
"I headed into what was obviously a very tense and difficult meeting in Chicago. What was in my mind was really those considerations. Protecting players and the rights of players, and protecting the game. And really, my own personal situation was secondary, said Kelly. "I'm saddened and I'm disappointed by how things have developed. Unless someone has gone through and experienced something like this, it's hard for you to really appreciate the kind of range of emotions that one goes through. But I was privileged to do this job for the period of time that I did it. I leave with just an enormous affinity for the players of the NHL and I want to do what's right for them going forward."
The former NHLPA executive director also reflected on the environment in which he worked with the players' association.
"I guess I don't know that I fully appreciated when I took the job, some of the challenges that would be faced just by that structure. I've been in the corporate governance world in my prior life and this is a challenging job to begin with, but given the current structure, it is really an enormously challenging position when you have a number of bright, and I think well-intentioned people, who are critiquing your every move, your every comment, your every action and second guessing it. I don't say that in a malicious way, but it presents challenges that frankly nobody in a similar role - whether it be Don Fehr, Gene Upshaw or Billy Hunter, or Dee Smith or even Bob Goodenow really ever had to face. Going forward, I hope the players can take a good hard look at that structure and address it for the better just so that this organization will be healthier and stronger in the future.
Dreger and Watters asked if Kelly would be pursuing his firing with any legal action.
"I'm not going to talk about internal union matters. I subscribe to the view that what goes on in the locker room stays in the locker room, so respectfully, I am not going to get into the specifics of what was discussed and where it leads us," said Kelly. "I'm motivated by what is best for the players, what protects them and protects their interests. I don't think it protects them or their interests - or the game's interests - for me to kind of delve into those matters.
Kelly was asked if he believed that his firing in Chicago amounted to a "crucifixion".
"Again, I prefer not to answer that question. I will only say that I'm thankful for having had the opportunity. I'm a big boy. Hopefully some talent and abilities for the next phase of my life. I'd rather kind of leave it at that."
Kelly also discussed an anonymous letter that was leaked to the media that criticized Kelly.
"When you are in a position like this one, you are a public person and people do take shots. In this case it was anonymous," said Kelly. "I did read that... when you read something that's been sent to a journalist which is not factual, it hurts. But look, it comes with territory and I was a prosecutor for many, many, many years and people used to take shots at me all the time...usually bad guys in an effort to try and discredit me, and scare me off or push me away. So I've developed some broad shoulders over time. So I wasn;t surprised by it. My only concern when I see those kinds of things are, frankly, how it impacts my family. I do have children and it does pain me that my kids have to read negative things that are printed about me, but it's not something I can control and I understand why it happens.
Kelly was also asked to describe his emotion upon hearing the news of his dismissal.
"Walking out, (I felt) shock, extreme sadness, disappointment. I think the range of human emotions that any person would feel," explained Kelly. "Look, people get terminated from roles all the time whether you are a hockey coach or a player or somebody from the United Auto Workers. When you lose a role, particularly one that you love - and I did love this one because of the incredible respect I have for the players and the game - when are being asked to move on and leave that role it hurts. It's something I will come to grips with. I hope that I have left the game in a better place, I hope that I have helped to bring some level of credibility back to the NHLPA. I could not have done it alone and obviously I had a great number of people who were helping me. But I am a better person for having had the experience, and I hope I have left the game and the players in a better place."