NHL labor battle continues as second post-lockout season opens

[JURIST] As the National Hockey League [official website] opened its 2006-2007 season this week, the lockout that wiped out the entire 04-05 slate [JURIST report] has reared its head again in the form of a lawsuit filed against the players' union [complaint, PDF] by players themselves. The suit, filed in US District Court on Monday, alleges improprieties by union leadership in the aftermath of the lockout, which ended in July 2005 [JURIST report].

Three players - Chris Chelios, Trent Klatt, and Dwayne Roloson (whose first name is misspelled as "Duane" on the complaint) - sued the NHL Players' Association [organization website], along with executive director Ted Saskin and several other players who served as union officials. The suit alleges violations of both the NHLPA bylaws and US labor laws, claiming that Saskin was elected illegally and misappropriated union money. The suit seeks the removal of Saskin and millions of dollars in damages [Voluntary Trade Blog report].

Prior to his election, Saskin served as Senior Director of Business Affairs and Licensing for the NHLPA. Goodenow resigned his position as executive director a few weeks after players ratified the new collective bargaining agreement, having come under fire from players - and fans - for taking a hardline stance against a salary cap but eventually agreeing to one anyway. Saskin was elected to replace Goodenow in November 2005, with 85 percent of the ballots reportedly approving him for the job. Players opposing Saskin alleged improprieties in the balloting process [Sports Network report]. The complaint also alleges that Saskin's election was not properly ratified by the executive board.

Millions of dollars are also at issue in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs claim that Goodenow was offered an $8 million buyout to resign immediately without proper authority. They allege that Saskin used NHLPA funds to campaign for his position and inflate his salary and that Saskin withheld or misrepresented material facts about the collective bargaining agreement during and after the lockout. The complaint does not specify a dollar figure, but rather seeks "damages and punitive damages in an amount to be proved at trial".

The defendants in the lawsuit, however, are dismissive of the claims. Saskin told reporters Tuesday, "The claims issued in the complaint are the same claims that have been made repeatedly over the last 13 months by this tiny group," calling the allegations "offensive" and "completely without merit" [AP report]. He also said he considered the matter closed after a July meeting in British Columbia that elected a new interim executive board [AP report], and questioned why the group would press the lawsuit. "It serves no useful purpose for this very small group who clearly have no mandate or support from the general membership to continue to bring up matters that have already been addressed in order to satisfy the personal agendas of a few players, agents and lawyers," Saskin said.

Trevor Linden, a member of the Vancouver Canucks, was named in the suit as the former president of the NHLPA; a new president has not yet been chosen. He echoed Saskin's characterizations [Canadian Press report], saying the claims are "the same tired old allegations that we've seen for a year now" and that the allegations have already been "answered and explained."

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