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Cheques are in the mail and cheques are being cashed as the National Hockey League Players' Association has begun paying back some of the money it collected to survive the 2004-05 lockout.
The NHLPA has been making distribution payments to both current and former players in the past three weeks. The money comes from an accumulated fund the players paid into to establish a lockout war chest. Licensing revenues, player dues and interest are also part of the fund, which is believed to be as much as $100-million (U.S.).
About half of that total will be paid to the players through a formula that includes the number of days a player is listed on an NHL roster during a specific season.
The distribution payments should have been made more than a year ago. Lawyer Patrick Ducharme of Windsor, Ont., sent letters to NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin, currently on a paid leave of absence, asking what was taking so long in giving back the money to players.
"I wrote to Ted Saskin for a year and half and rarely heard back from him," Ducharme said yesterday. "They would not give me an answer directly."
Part of the problem was deciding on the right payback formula. Then came the great in-house battle that saw Bob Goodenow ousted as the NHLPA boss and replaced with Saskin, who could be fired by the players tomorrow.
With Saskin's leadership under question and with an interim executive committee limited in what it could do, the business of paying the players what they were owed fell to the back burner.
Now, largely through the work of NHLPA legal counsel Ian Penny and Stu Grimson, cheques are being issued.
"What a refreshing change," said Ducharme, who represents current NHL player Jeremy Roenick and two retired players. "I put in a call and within an hour [Grimson]called back to answer my questions."
Saskin was ordered to take a paid leave on March 11 when it was alleged he had accessed and blocked players' e-mail to gain information.
Today, the player representatives from the 30 NHL clubs will meet by telephone conference call and listen to a recommendation from Toronto lawyer Chris Paliare, who was asked to determine whether Saskin could be fired without having to continue paying him.
If the players are told they have cause for termination, then a vote would be taken and announced.
A story and picture caption in yesterday's Globe and Mail incorrectly stated that the National Hockey League Players' Association would hold a telephone conference call yesterday to determine the fate of executive director Ted Saskin. The story and caption should have said the conference call will take place today. The Globe regrets the error.