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TSN Senior Correspondent

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The NHL Players’ Association and a former senior consultant are locked in a behind-the-scenes battle that has brought into question how the NHLPA pursues claims of NHL teams misreporting revenue and whether players are being kept properly informed of those claims.

Richard Rodier, a former NHLPA consultant, alleges the union’s executive director, Don Fehr, didn’t tell players about several cases where teams were potentially misreporting revenue – including one case that Rodier said could have resulted in a $400-million claim against the NHL.

Rodier, a corporate lawyer who was fired by the union in 2015, has shared his allegation against Fehr with at least two NHL team player representatives, three player agents, and staff at the union’s headquarters in Toronto, five sources familiar with the matter told TSN.

At least one of the team player reps contacted by Rodier raised the issue with NHLPA senior staff, who denied Rodier’s allegations.

The NHLPA told the player that its staff investigated Rodier’s allegation that the Detroit Red Wings didn’t report millions of dollars’ worth of debt forgiven by the bankrupt city of Detroit as revenue. While the player rep told TSN he doesn’t recall being briefed on the Red Wings case by the NHLPA, union sources say the NHL’s 30 team player reps were advised about the case.

Regardless, it’s unclear whether the NHLPA was obliged to share Rodier’s allegations with players. One player agent contacted by TSN said that the players hired Fehr to make those decisions on behalf of the league’s 700-plus players.

The NHLPA has sent Rodier at least four letters threatening legal action or a possible complaint filed with the Law Society of Upper Canada, two sources told TSN. The most recent letter was sent to him in early April, charging that he has violated a non-disclosure clause of his employment contract with the union, and that he is inappropriately sharing confidential NHL team financial information with the public.

Rodier, Fehr, and an NHLPA spokesman all declined to comment for this story.

Rodier, who once worked alongside Blackberry co-founder Jim Balsillie in his failed attempt to buy several NHL teams, specializes in scrutinizing income statements and balance sheets and began working with the union five years ago. In an NHLPA press release announcing his hiring in January 2011, Fehr wrote that Rodier has "extensive experience analyzing the business of professional hockey."

Rodier now works as a consultant for the National Basketball Players Association. He continues his work examining team and league revenue statements for misreported income.

TSN has confirmed that after his termination from the NHLPA, Rodier told NHL players, agents and NHLPA staff that in addition to a potential union claim against the NHL related to the Red Wings, he had discovered at least three other potentially significant claims regarding misreported revenue. Sources say Rodier has refused to provide details to the NHLPA on those claims without a retainer agreement.

Since the NHL and NHLPA have a labour agreement that calls for players to receive 50 per cent of hockey-related revenue (HRR), if teams misreport their revenue it would have a direct impact on the players’ share of HRR.

During his first year with the NHLPA in 2011, Rodier helped to build a case for filing $110 million worth of claims against the NHL hockey revenue allegedly misreported by Washington, Nashville and Arizona, sources told TSN. The NHL and NHLPA settled those particular claims for $40 million, the sources said.

Three years later, in early 2014, Rodier told Fehr and his brother Steve Fehr, special counsel for the NHLPA, that he had discovered a potentially massive union claim.

Rodier proposed the union pursue a claim that he said was related to a Red Wings' debt to the bankrupt city of Detroit that had been forgiven, two sources told TSN. The claim, Rodier told the Fehrs, could be worth between $200 million and $400 million.

On Dec. 26, 2013, a front-page story in The Detroit News reported that under terms of the team's lease for Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings were supposed to pay the city 25 per cent of their cable TV revenue, but had not done so for years. The News reported the team’s debt could be as high as $70 million.

Rodier later told Fehr that he had travelled to Detroit and interviewed several sources familiar with the lease agreement. He also had obtained a copy of the lease through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, and argued that the debt was far higher than the reported $70 million because the team’s unpaid bills also were to be complemented by monthly interest of 1.5 per cent, calculated daily.

In April 2014, the Detroit Free Press reported the Red Wings signed a new lease agreement with Detroit, retroactive to 2010, and that agreement cancelled any existing debts owed by the Red Wings’ parent company, Olympia Entertainment.

According to the NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement, forgiven debt is supposed to be considered as revenue. In his conversations with union staff and player reps and player agents, Rodier allegedly cited Article 26 of the CBA, which establishes rules to ensure teams do not circumvent the salary cap, and share the appropriate revenue with players.

“The NHL shall discipline Clubs for material and intentional non-compliance with these provision,” the CBA says, noting that “a Club's first offense shall carry a mandatory fine in the amount of any revenue discrepancy plus $1 million, plus the loss of a first-round draft choice…”

Rodier argued that since the Red Wings’ forgiven debt was a material gain and that debt had allegedly been purposefully misreported, a claim could be worth $401 million. The stakes would be so high, Rodier told the Fehrs and NHLPA lawyers Don Zavelo and Roman Stoykewych, that the NHL would be inclined to avoid the risk and settle the claim for a lower amount, as it had done previously with other claims.

Rodier has told at least two team player reps, agents and union staff that Fehr refused to advise players about the potential claim. Rodier has alleged that by February 2015, he was effectively fired by the NHLPA. (Rodier did not receive his official termination notice until June 2015.)

An NHLPA source told TSN that Rodier’s allegations about the Red Wings were investigated, both by the union’s six-member team that works on HRR issues, as well as by outside counsel. They concluded that Rodier’s conclusions were flawed.

In a twist, TSN has also confirmed that even after Rodier’s firing, Fehr and Stoykewych in May 2015 negotiated to maintain ties to Rodier after he said that he discovered new claims involving allegedly misreported revenue against the NHL. Rodier said that found recurring annual claims of $650 million in addition to retroactive claims going back a decade to the 2005-06 season that were allegedly worth $300 million.

Rodier told union staff he wanted to work on a contingency basis, meaning he would receive a percentage of any successful HRR claims he brought to the NHL on behalf of the union.

A source told TSN that Rodier’s contingency proposal was rejected because he would not specify what percentage of revenue he expected to be paid.

Instead, the union offered him a $5,400-per-month retainer that included the possibility to earn more depending on the amount of work he performed, the source said.

The union has also informed players who have inquired about Rodier's allegations that Rodier demanded a seven-year guaranteed contract in exchange for sharing details of the new claims against the NHL – claims he said he discovered after he left the union.

The NHLPA has enjoyed relative calm over the past few years after a tumultuous period that saw executive director Ted Saskin axed for spying on player emails and his successor Paul Kelly ousted following a non-confidence vote.

Rodier is a polarizing figure in hockey. He's blessed with a talent for pouring through financial statements but has admitted he lacks diplomacy.

In 2005, Rodier was Balsillie's point man in efforts to buy the Nashville Predators. That plan fizzled when Balsillie made clear the Predators would move to Hamilton. The NHL scotched the purchase. Later, Rodier helped to conceive a plan to buy the Arizona Coyotes out of bankruptcy, again with the idea of moving the team to Southern Ontario.

In 2011, Rodier joined the NHLPA, and after a first year that saw him help to generate claims against the NHL that were settled for $40 million, he continued to work on HRR-related claims.

Three years later, in 2014, three claims did go to arbitration - claims against Nashville, Columbus and Winnipeg. All were cases where the teams were receiving subsidies from either municipal or provincial-level governments but had allegedly not reported the subsidies as hockey-related revenue.

But during the fall of 2014, University of Chicago law school professor Kenneth Dam, a former arbitrator for the NBA who was appointed by the NHL and NHLPA, suffered a serious health problem. Two years later, those three claims from 2014 remain unresolved.

The NHL and NHLPA continue to interview arbitrator candidates to replace Dam.