The complete transcript from Paul Kelly's interview on Wednesday on AM 640 Toronto, when he joined TSN's Darren Dreger and Bill Watters on Leafs Lunch.
Darren Dreger – Paul Kelly now joins us here for the first time to talk about his ousting. First of all Paul, thank you for doing this.
Paul Kelly – Good afternoon Darren. Happy to be here.
Darren Dreger – At any point, you know going into those meetings in Chicago did you feel a sense that yes you were going to be able to turn this thing around and you were going to be able to salvage your position?
Paul Kelly – You know it's a hard question to answer. Before I do, if you wouldn't mind there was a couple of things I'd just like to say which is I hope that the NHLPA is in a better place today then it was when I came on board 21 months ago. 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 you know 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. My efforts at the NHLPA were always designed and intended to protect the 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. 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 is best for our sport? What grows our sport? What gets more people involved in our sport? What brings more viewers and listeners to our sport and those are the things that motivated me and so as I headed into what was a very tense and difficult meeting in Chicago, what was in my mind were really those considerations, protecting players and the rights of players and protecting the game and really my own personal situation was secondary. I'm saddened and I'm disappointed by how things have developed. Unless and until someone has gone through an experience like this, it's hard for you to appreciate the kind of range of emotions that one goes through. 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. I'm skirting your question a bit, but that's what I would like to communicate.
Bill Watters – Paul, Bill Watters, and my sincere appreciation of who you are and what you've done and needless to say it was a shock to all of us. I know that you'll be all right and you'll be in a better place as we move on. I still am confused though Paul, I spent most of my professional life in the hockey industry, I think I know hockey players as well as anyone, I've known Paul Kelly for 20 years at least, and I can't put the two together to create what happened in Chicago. That leads me to believe that there is a third party with no hockey interest at all that created this maelstrom. Is their any truth or any veracity to my assumption, or can you comment?
Paul Kelly – Let me answer it this way. The day that I started in my position Bill as executive director, we came in with a new constitution. Sometimes when an organization goes through the turmoil and the difficulties that the PA has gone through you swing the pendulum a little bit too far to try to put cheques and balances in, and to correct certain things. You know I think that the constitution has a lot of brilliant aspects to it, I also think and, I've been open about this with the players, that I think there are some aspects of the constitution that now with the benefit of hindsight and having lived with it could be modified and tweaked to better and strengthen the Players Association. There are just an abundance of cheques and balances in that system. We no longer have an executive committee of a president and four vice-presidents. Everything goes to the full board of thirty with a qualm of 25 needed. We have an advisory board which started with 8 members and dropped down to 7. We have an ombudsman who doesn't just have power and authority, but has six separate former players, divisional player reps we call them, working directly for him. You have a general counsel who is separately responds and is responsible directly to the executive board. I don't know if I fully appreciated when I took the job, some of the challenges that would be faced just by that structure. I have 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, 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, it presents challenges which frankly nobody in a similar role whether you're Don Fehr, Gene Upshaw, Billy Hunter or even Bob Goodenow really ever had to face. Going forward I hope that 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.
Darren Dreger – Paul Kelly, formerly of National Hockey League's Player Association our guest speaking for the first time publicly and he's doing it today on Leafs Lunch. Paul, do you understand why you were fired, and will you or can you challenge that decision legally.
Paul Kelly – 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 Darren, respectfully, I'm not going into the specifics of what was discussed and where it leads us. I'm motivated by what is best for the players, and what protects them and what protects their interests, and I don't think it protects them or their interest, or the games interest for me to kind've delve into those matters.
Darren Dreger – Can you talk about the experience in Chicago though Paul because I had two sources, and one said in sitting in the meetings, it was like watching several hours of Paul Kelly get punched in the face, and a second source said it was a crucifixion. Is that accurate on either account?
Paul Kelly – Again, I'd prefer not to answer that question. I will only say that I'm thankful for having had the opportunity. I'm a big boy. I have hopefully some talents and abilities to bring to the next phase of my life, and I'd rather kind of leave it at that.
Bill Watters – Paul, the cowardice of the anonymous letter, allows Inspector Clouseau here, a.k.a. Bill Watters, to tell you that that was not a letter conceived or written by anyone who had anything to do with hockey. I, for the life of me, cannot relate that to the players or anyone who has the best interest of the game at heart. I wonder how you felt when you first found out about that, or when you first saw it, because apparently it was prepared anonymously, prior to the meeting in Las Vegas, was that a shock to your system?
Paul Kelly – Not really. Look, 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, you know I did read that, I actually didn't see it until just a few weeks ago. I didn't see it at the time it was sent to various press people. When you read something that's been sent to a journalist which is not factual, you know it hurts, but look it comes with the territory. I was a prosecutor for many many years and people used to take shots at me all the time, usually bad guys in an effort to try to discredit me, or scare me off or push me away. I've developed some broad shoulders over time, so I wasn't surprised by it. My only concern when I see those kind've things is 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 written about me, but it's not something that I can control, and I understand why it happens.
Darren Dreger – Paul Kelly our guest today on Leafs Lunch. Paul if you think back now, is there a definite time when you saw the divide growing, and where you started to wonder what your future was? Is it a month ago, six months ago, a year ago, can you be specific?
Paul Kelly – I'm not going to acknowledge that there was a divide. Again, I don't want to talk about how we at the Players Association conduct our business. I will tell you that the people at the Players Association are a really remarkable group of people and I hold no animosity towards any of them, and they are a bright and committed group of people and they have the best interest of the players at heart, and I have every confidence that they will do a good job going forward. As the person sitting in the executive directors seat, it was my primary obligation, my moral duty to protect the players at all times, and I can honestly say that every action that I took from the first day that I got their was designed to protect the players interest and to make sure that the players were getting their fair share that they weren't being deceived or manipulated or having their rights violated and again it's a complicated position. It's a position others have and will continue to covet and if that creates some tensions, it's something that I think that's largely unavoidable.
Darren Dreger – Describe your emotion quickly when the news was given to you. When you were escorted into the boardroom, and then we watched you walk out?
Paul Kelly – It was like 4:30 in the morning my time, since I was on Toronto time, so I would say fatigue. You know walking in I was concerned and apprehensive just based on the way things had evolved in the prior hours. I think walking out shock, extreme sadness, you know disappointment, and you know I think the range of human emotions that any person would feel. Look, people get terminated from roles all the time, whether you're a hockey coach, 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 you are being asked to move on and leave that role, I mean it hurts. It's something that 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 wouldn't have done it alone obviously I had a great number of people including some superb people like Glenn Healy and Pat Flatley, Mike Ouellet and Tyler Currie and others who are helping me. I'm a better person for having had the experience, and I hope I have left the game and the players in a better place.
Darren Dreger – Well, Paul, we wish we had more time, but we truly appreciate you taking the time and joining us and speaking publicly for the first time since learning your fate in the wee hours of Monday morning in Chicago. Thank you for doing this and all the best.
Paul Kelly – Thank you Darren. Thank you Bill. I appreciate it.
Bill Watters – Good luck Paul.