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Ralph: Former NHLPA head Kelly surprised at rejection

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Rick Ralph
1/7/2012 4:11:24 PM
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While Winnipeg Jets Chairman Mark Chipman spoke to media members regarding the NHL's decision to postpone realignment Saturday morning, former NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly was sitting in the stands directly overhead of the media room. The Executive Director of College Hockey Inc. was in town to catch NCAA hockey at MTS Centre.

Having read both statements from the NHL and the Players Association, Kelly, like Chipman, was a little surprised by the news that realignment for the NHL was put on hold. 

"Personally, I thought the realignment voted on by the owners was positive. From the NHL players I had spoken to I thought they had embraced it as well. I was a little surprised by (Friday's) news. I'm hoping it's a temporary thing", Kelly told TSN Radio 1290.

Kelly feels teams like Winnipeg and Detroit would benefit greatly from realignment. In fact, Kelly finds it curious that what was put forward by the owners, somewhat resembled what the players were looking for when he was the Executive Director of the Players Association from 2007-09, minus realignment.

"We argued for a schedule which permitted teams to play home-and-home series against every other team in the league. Our players wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to get to the other 29 venues, and then all those other teams would come to their home. They thought that was important for the marketing of the game. That proposal that we pushed at the time was rejected by the NHL. So it's curious that now they have voted in a proposal which in fact granted in the proposal that the players had been seeking and now the players have pushed back, so it's ironic that we find ourselves at this point", Kelly said from the stands at MTS Centre.

Kelly thinks there is a little "flexing of muscles" ahead of "the big dance". The current collective bargaining agreement expires on September 15 of this year. While a lockout is a possibility, Kelly is hoping, nor does he think it will come to that.

"Another lockout would be very detrimental to the sport. I'm an optimist. I've talked to Donald Fehr on a number of occasions. I've talked to others at the NHLPA; I've talked to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly on a regular basis.  We're not looking for a wholesale, re-creation of our system as we were five years ago", said Kelly, for a moment slipping back into the role of negotiator.

"I think there are some big issues but their issues that are resolvable. I don't think that people should look at this issue as being kind of a precursor to a lockout or work stoppage. I think there are smart people at the table. There is going to be some pushing back and forth. There are going to be some harsh words, but I think, my own view, that it will get solved and solved before the end of September."

Hockey fans can only hope he's right.

Paul Kelly (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
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