Former NHLPA VP Damphousse says paranoia sank ex-boss Kelly

The next head of the NHL Players’ Association must be free to work and make decisions without the fear of being fired at any moment, says former union vice-president Vincent Damphousse.

MONTREAL — The next head of the NHL Players’ Association must be free to work and make decisions without the fear of being fired at any moment, says former union vice-president Vincent Damphousse.

In an interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday, Damphousse said Paul Kelly, who was fired by the association’s executive board Monday, was victim of “a kind of paranoia in the group.

“For the new guy coming in, the players need to let him work. There was maybe too much leeway before and now it’s like the guy is in handcuffs. He’s got to be able to work with confidence.”

Damphousse, a former star player in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, worked for the association as director of business affairs but left before Kelly succeeded Ted Saskin in 2007.

The next executive director will be the fourth in five years.

Hardliner Bob Goodenow, who disagreed with a collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2004-05 lockout and brought in a salary cap, left in 2005 and was replaced by Saskin, who had a close relationship with league brass but was axed for allegedly monitoring players’ email.

Kelly, who appeared to defend the players interests while maintaining good relations with the commissioner, looked to be the victim of a discontented group within the association intent on having a hardline leader leading into negotiations on a new CBA in 2011.

“Now a lot of players and even people within the office want someone who is like Bob a bit — more of a iron fist and being confrontational with the league,” said Damphousse. “I feel it’s much better to work with the league.”

The association gave no specific reason for firing Kelly. They said the move came after a review of his leadership and that it showed that a system of checks and balances brought in before Kelly was hired was working.

Damphousse said that in Kely’s case, the checks and balances were more like fetters.

“You can’t have watchdogs here and there looking over your shoulder — it’s not a good environment,” said Damphousse. “I understand the guys are on their guard, but you can’t be overbearing with the guy.”

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