TORONTO (CP) - Ted Saskin has taken the high road and decided to let the executive board of the NHL Players' Association vote again on his five-year deal as the new executive director - this time via secret ballot.
Despite overwhelming support from player reps during a late-night conference call with the executive board Monday night, Saskin decided to re-open the vote to once and for all end the criticism from a small group of players who questioned the process by which Saskin had been hired.
''After good dialogue with members of the executive board, I decided that it was in the best interests of the membership to conduct a secret ballot vote amongst our player representatives and executive officers so that there are absolutely no questions regarding my election as executive director and general counsel,'' Saskin said in a statement released after 12:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday morning.
Ballots were to be sent to player reps across the league Tuesday morning and the vote is expected to be completed by the end of the week. Saskin is expected to once again have his deal approved with a huge majority.
The board, comprised of seven executive committee members and 30 players reps, voted 31-6 on Aug. 31 to approve Saskin's deal but the vote was done via conference call and not by secret ballot, against the union's bylaws.
A small group of players, led by Trent Klatt, argued that Saskin was therefore improperly hired. The group, which also includes Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi and Minnesota Wild player rep Dwayne Roloson, then asked for the resignation of Saskin and NHLPA president Trevor Linden.
And that's when the group appeared to cross the line. Support from players and agents around the league poured in Monday as word spread that the group has hired a lawyer to possibly launch a lawsuit against Saskin.
''Everybody on our team supports Ted Saskin and Trevor Linden, there's no issue whatsoever,'' Colorado Avalanche star centre Joe Sakic said on the phone Monday. ''All the guys I talk to are happy with Ted.
''I can't believe this is even an issue. It's crazy. Here in Colorado, the focus is on training camp, where it should be.''
Added Flames captain Jarome Iginla: ''This is amazing to me, I don't get it. No one on my team phoned me to express any displeasure with Ted's hiring, I can tell you that.''
Still, Domi stuck to his guns Monday as the Leafs opened camp.
''The process has to be conducted a little more properly,'' he said. ''Trevor and Ted have worked hard on this but they were part of the team that cancelled the season, too.
''It's not up to those guys to make decisions. It's up to us 700 guys. I think that's where the frustration sets in with everybody.''
Despite Domi's views, Sakic's sentiment mirrored what the majority of people in and around the game felt about Saskin when contacted Monday.
Canucks defenceman Ed Jovanovski is frustrated the controversy has blown up just as the teams are opening training camp.
''I think this game has just got back on it's feet,'' Jovanovski told reporters in Vancouver. ''I don't think we need that garbage settling in.''
The game's biggest agents all support the new NHLPA executive director.
''I haven't talked to a single player who has shared Tie's view but I've spoken to many who share Joe's,'' veteran agent Don Baizley said from Vancouver. ''I can honestly say none of my clients (which include Sakic, Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Saku Koivu) have expressed any of this sentiment.
''Everybody I've talked to feel Ted was the right guy (to replace Bob Goodenow). It's almost that simple.''
Saskin's phone line was burning Monday.
''I know from first-hand discussions I've had with the overwhelming majority of our executive board (which consists of 30 player reps and seven executive officers) along with many more players and key player agents, that there is strong support for our executive committee and for me as the executive director,'' Saskin said.
''I look forward to addressing any concerns Tie or another individual may have with our direction. I don't think it's necessary or appropriate to have these discussions through the media. I can tell you that on any given day, I'm on the phone with dozens of players and today's traffic was heavier than usual. It was certainly gratifying to hear all the support that I have received from the membership.''
Linden said it's inevitable that some players are not going to agree with all decisions made by the union executive.
''In anything you do, certainly in this job, you have certain players who are not happy with the results,'' he told reporters in Vancouver. ''We ratified a 600-page CBA where we had 11 per cent of our association didn't agree with what we did. You make decisions on what's best for 700 guys. It's tough to do.
''We try to make recommendations that are going to benefit our group. We feel that we've done that here.''
Talk of a militant group led by Klatt, an NHLPA executive committee member, surfaced in the Toronto Star over the past week.
''Please do not use scare tactics on the players,'' Klatt wrote to Saskin in an e-mail, according to the Star.
''You have to realize that any one player, and there are a large number of unhappy players, can file an action in court or with an agency which will put everything into the public eye. . . . Right now, are you really comfortable that you were properly elected? What would a government agency say?''
Klatt, who did not immediately return a telephone message, announced his retirement Monday even though he had another year on his contract with the Los Angeles Kings at $912,000 US. Klatt did not take part in Monday night's conference call, which apparently did not impress several player reps who wanted answers. He will however get a vote again this week, as will Vincent Damphousse, who retired last week.
In addition to Klatt and Domi, the Star says the rogue group includes Roloson and Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios.
''This is supposed to be a democratic union and it's become communist,'' Roloson told the Toronto Star.
Arizona player rep Shane Doan, who fully supports Saskin, doesn't understand why this group is doing what it's doing.
''We're shooting ourselves in the foot with this thing,'' the Phoenix Coyotes captain said Monday night. ''I understand those guys have an issue or a problem, but they should bring it to a player meeting and not be airing it out in the public and doing the things they've done.
''Now is not the time to be doing this. Let's move on. It's not going to do any good to cry over spilt milk. It doesn't make any sense to me.''
Klatt's group is upset at how Saskin was hired and given a five-year deal worth $2 million a year. They believe a search committee should have been put together to search for other possible replacements for the outgoing Goodenow, although that protocol doesn't appear anywhere in the NHLPA constitution.
Sakic dismisses any criticism of the Saskin appointment.
''Ted is the right man for the job,'' Sakic said. ''He's the architect of the deal and he knows the CBA inside out.
''I think this just a minority group of disgruntled players.''
''From what I gather, the vote on Ted's confirmation was 31-6,'' said influential agent Don Meehan, who represents the likes of Iginla, Jose Theodore, Mike Peca and Curtis Joseph. ''And if you believe in the democratic process, I think you have to respect that. Is it healthy to have opposing views? Yes. And there probably will be when you have 700 people involved in a constituency.
''But a vote of 31-6 seems pretty convincing to me.''
But the dissenting group pointed to the fact the vote was not held via secret ballot. So what, said Carolina Hurricanes player rep Kevyn Adams.
''I was on the conference call,'' Adams said Monday. ''I thought it was a great, open and honest dialogue. I am really surprised to see guys saying that. We really voiced our opinion on that call and we spent five hours talking on it. So if you didn't say what was on your mind at that time, then you never will. Guys spoke openly.
''At no time did I think guys on the call thought anyone else other than Ted was right for the job. Guys were in agreement that Ted Saskin had done a great job for us and he was the right guy. And we voted that way. To me this is a total non-issue.''
Klatt and the rogue group of players have hired a lawyer, Bob Lanza, who will look at what legal avenues they have to unseat Saskin.
But Saskin, many believe, is perfect for the job. He has a solid relationship with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and that's key in a new CBA that calls for both sides to work together in a number of facets.
''To me, Ted is absolutely the guy,'' said Adams. ''This whole deal right now is predicated on the two sides working together and having a good relationship.
''For someone to come in from the outside and maybe doesn't have the relationship that Ted does, to me it makes no sense. Ted has proven that he has the relationship that we need. I think he's proven that he's earned the job.''
Added Meehan: ''I think Ted has done an extraordinary job under very difficult circumstances. I think he's perfectly suited for the position. He has the respect of the executive committee by a convincing vote. I think he's well-suited and well-respected by the other side and at this time I don't think there's anybody better qualified than Ted Saskin to lead the Association.''
But Domi feels every player in the league should have had a say in Saskin's hiring.
''I don't think it's that we don't want Ted Saskin, I think just the way the whole process was conducted everybody isn't too happy with,'' Domi said. ''As a player that's been around, a veteran guy, we make a lot of money because of what guys stood for before for us.
''Things have to be assessed. Things were not assessed properly. I think there just has to be a better process instead of Trevor making his own decision for everybody.
''There's 700 guys that are just as important as the next. Everybody's a little frustrated.''
-thanks to www.tsn.ca