No one is saying Paul Kelly has the job, and that includes Paul Kelly, but unless the National Hockey League Players Association has one more surprise punch up its tattered sweater sleeve, the former Needham High hockey coach officially will be named the new executive director of the league's oft-troubled union Wednesday.
"If it happens, I will be both honored and humbled," the 52-year-old Kelly said Friday, when reached at his downtown Boston law offices.
Beyond that, he is reluctant to say much, out of respect to the players and the voting process, which is expected to be wrapped up tomorrow night. If he is approved by a simple majority of the club's 30 union representatives, Kelly will take over the office that has been left vacant since Ted Saskin was stripped of the job earlier this year only weeks after he was caught snooping through the e-mail of some rank-and-file members.
Kelly, rumored to receive $2 million a year as union boss, intends to relinquish his partnership in the downtown firm of Kelly, Libby & Hoopes, which he formed in 2000 after years of working for a number of large downtown law firms, as well as being a state assistant district attorney. It was during his nearly 10-year run with the Justice Department that Kelly, an intramural hockey player at Boston College (Class of '77), was the lead prosecutor in the case against Alan Eagleson, the notorious former boss of the NHLPA.
The three-year investigation that ultimately kept Eagleson locked in a Canadian jail for six months steered Kelly, in a roundabout way, toward the union, and he now is poised to take control of what is perhaps the most powerful job in hockey.
Provided he is elected, said Kelly, he will put his initial efforts on getting to know his membership, putting together "a real team to look after the best interests of the players," and directing growth initiatives aimed, in part, at "bringing the fans back to games and putting the lockout as far behind as we possibly can."
For a guy who doesn't yet have the job, Kelly obviously understands the reality here. The last thing the Players Association needs is a leader who will opt out of the collective bargaining agreement (as permitted in less than two years) and try to champion the causes of old. The union needs a leader with integrity, a visionary, someone with the ability to shape a true partnership with the league (a two-way dance, mind you) in an attempt to build annual revenues.
Kelly, born in Arlington, Va., the son of military parents, moved to Brighton, specifically Atkins Street, as a pre-schooler. The family soon moved to Newton Highlands, and Kelly both skied and played hockey in high school before graduating from Newton South High School, Class of 1973.
He was, like so many at that time, fully immersed in the Big Bad Bruins era that featured such stars as Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. In his downtown office, in fact, he has a small, autographed picture of Orr, the iconic shot of No. 4 flying through the air after potting the 1970 Cup winner over St. Louis. Over the years, said Kelly, he has become good pals with Orr, and when Kelly opened his own firm seven years ago, Orr sent over a large colorized version of the same picture.
"That one is hanging down the hall in our office kitchen," said Kelly. "I'm not sure Bobby would like the fact that it's hanging over the water cooler."
The father of four daughters, ages 17 to 25, Kelly and wife Lee have lived in Needham since the early '80s.
If voted in this week, Kelly initially will commute from Boston to the union's Toronto office on a weekly basis, and eventually will look for more permanent digs in Toronto, where, he believes, union headquarters should remain. He is of equal belief that the association should open a US office, most likely in Manhattan.
Kelly coached amateur hockey for years, including his seven seasons, 1985-91, as Needham High's bench boss.
Contrary to some media reports, he has never owned Bruins season tickets.
"Well, I think I can give that a qualified yes," said Kelly "When I worked at another Boston firm, Foley and Hoag, the firm owned Bruins season tickets. Was I the most prolific user of those tickets? Yes. I consider myself a longtime Bruins guy."
The Hub of Hockey. Its spokes reach everywhere.
It's no secret that Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella believes in playing his hottest hands up front, which means he also bucks conventional wisdom when it comes to doling out ice time.
Prior to the Bolts playing on Causeway Street last week, Tampa Bay's three highest-profile (and priciest) forwards ranked among the league's top five forwards in ice time per game. To wit:
1. Martin St. Louis, Tampa, 24:46
2. Brad Richards, Tampa, 24:09
3. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa, 24:04
4. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa, 23:45
5. Chris Drury, NY Rangers, 23:11
By contrast, Bruins coach Claude Julien has a more traditional, and some would say democratic, deployment of his forwards. Headed into Thursday night's game, for instance, Patrice Bergeron (19:03) led all Boston forwards in ice time, followed by Peter Schaefer (18:23) and Glen Murray (17:55).
Based on those numbers, Tampa rolls out its top three forwards for a combined 72:40, while Boston's top three will take a 17:19 discount from that.
Different strokes for different folks, in Julien's opinion.
"I'm not going to say it's the wrong thing to do," said Julien, reflecting on the Tortorella method. "But coaching against the Bruins, I remember [Joe ] Thornton, [Glen ] Murray, and [Mike ] Knuble playing 23, 25 minutes per game. From what I noticed, in the second half, they weren't as effective as in the first half."
By Julien's eye, when his forwards are playing the up-tempo game asked of them, they're at their best when slotted in the 18-to-20-minute range.
"If you play too much, I find you have to cheat a little bit to make up for it," said Julien. "To each his own. You can't take anything away from [Tampa's] guys, because they've won the Stanley Cup."
Hottest item in the skate market
Lace 'em up, heat 'em up.
No, we're not talking hot chocolate at the kitchen table, before carving up the linoleum floor en route to the backyard rink. This is far more high-tech.
Thermablade Inc., based in the Montreal suburbs, believes it has just the thing (or yet another thing) to revolutionize the game. The company, which includes Wayne Gretzky as an investor, has developed skate blades that heat to 41 degrees, and claims hotter blades lead to: 1. diminished gliding friction and 2. diminished start resistance.
Add one and two together, and before you know it, all the Wensinks in the world suddenly morph into Cournoyers. Or something like that.
We all know what happens if you give a moose a muffin, but good Gordie, what happens if you give a hockey player a couple of hot feet?
The blades, each with tiny rechargeable batteries and a microprocessor, soon will be tested in practice by as many as 10 NHLers.
If the results are positive, it's a fair bet the Lords of the Boards will allow the blades to be used in NHL games.
Oh, and you knew this was coming: The Thermablades, available only in adult sizes right now, will retail for $399.99 per pair. No word yet on the cost for a pair of double runners.
And, you knew this was coming, too: The International Brotherhood of Goalies already has engaged legal counsel for a potential discrimination suit. It can get awfully cold standing in front of that 24-square-foot guard shack.
Better 'tending through aerobics
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who last week led the league with a minuscule 1.34 goals-against average, attributes some of his early-season success to the broader-based summer training program he endured under the watch of John Whitesides, the club's strength and conditioning coach. The key change, said Thomas, was the program's emphasis on expanding his aerobic capacity. "Anyone who thinks goaltending doesn't require aerobic fitness," mused Thomas, "only means they never tried playing the position. I remember even in college, guys would try it once and then say, 'OK, I'm never doing that again!' And it wasn't because they were hurt by a shot or anything. Just moving around with all the stuff on was just too much for them." According to Thomas, all the extra equipment weighs 38 pounds. "And that's when it's dry," he said.
Never a dull moment in Montreal, where the Bruins will make their first visit tomorrow night under the guidance of ex-Habs coach Claude Julien. Last Tuesday night, after the Habs gave up a late (tying) goal to Florida, star winger Alexei Kovalev said he wished the Habs had called a timeout, caught their collective breath, and put the right people on the ice. Now there's a bubble-buster for any bench boss. The next day, sure enough, coach Guy Carbonneau told the media he wished Kovalev had come to him with that astute observation. And then Thursday, in the city where no hockey story ever sleeps, Kovalev announced that he would have little to say in the future to the ever-incendiary media. "From now on, I'm just going to say, 'No,' 'yes,' 'of course' . . . whatever, and see if you guys can twist those words," said Kovalev. Meanwhile, rumors bubbled that the Habs might deal Kovalev to Calgary for Alex Tanguay.
Changing on the fly
Scott Bradley, now in his 11th season as the Bruins' director of amateur scouting, has begun a transition to a new role in the organization, one that will have him more involved in general hockey operations and player development (both headed by Don Sweeney). Wayne Smith, now sharing the job with Bradley, will take over Bradley's job full-time at the end of the season. Bradley will continue to reside outside of Vancouver.
Downsizing his game
Before returning to the NHL last season, when he spent time in Atlanta and St. Louis, Glen Metropolit played three straight seasons in Europe. "What led me there was my desire to get away from Washington," explained the versatile forward. "The Caps told me I had a job, that I should get a place to live - and then they sent me down," he recalled. "That was enough of that." Three years in Europe helped shape his game and increase his confidence, said Metropolit, and it really paid off in Year 3 when he led the Swiss League in scoring, connecting for 63 points with Lugano. However, upon returning to the smaller North American rinks last fall, there was an adjustment period. "Over there, you get the puck and start skating, you can do three crossovers," he said. "Here, it's one crossover, and the second one, you've skated yourself into the wall. Painful. I had to get used to that."
Stephanie Lemelin, 28, daughter of former Bruins netminder Reggie Lemelin, has landed a TV gig this fall on the "Cavemen" sitcom. Stephanie is no stranger to the small screen, having appeared in shows such as "Malcolm in the Middle," "CSI" and "Undeclared." Meanwhile, her dad, now 52, is in his sixth season as the Flyers' goalie coach . . . The Kings, with ex-Bruins Mike O'Connell (director of pro development) and Nick Bobrov (scout) on their staff, have opened a small office in South Boston to accommodate their staff . . . Brad Marchand, signed to an entry-level deal by the Bruins last week, is expected to be a key member of the Team Canada squad that will play in the World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic Dec. 26-Jan. 5 . . . Former Bruin Landon "Of The Lost" Wilson, 32, is back with Lugano for a second season. Late last week, he stood 3-4 -7 after 12 games. When tracing the fall of the Bruins Empire, it's hard to ignore the Nov. 22, 1996, swap in which the Bruins gave up a first-round pick to Colorado for Wilson and Anders Myrvold. A year and a half later, the Avalanche used that pick to make Robyn Regehr the 19th selection in the '98 draft. Before he turned 20, Regehr was flipped to the Flames and promptly became a stalwart on the Calgary back line . . . Count rugged Bruins winger Shawn Thornton among those who would prefer to see the NHL drop its "instigator" penalty, which adds a two-minute minor for any player initiating a fight. "That's what leads to some of the stupid stuff you see out there," said Thornton, noting recent notorious hits by Jesse Boulerice and Steve Downie. "Guys won't be running around there, using their sticks on guys, if they know they'll have to fight." . . . Startling to see empty seats in Hockeytown, especially with the Red Wings in possession of three recent Cups ('97, '98, '02). October is a busy month in Michigan sports, the legendary Scotty Bowman reminded everyone in a radio interview, "and we didn't have the Tigers drawing 3 million people five years ago." True, but in a city whose economy can send those 3 million to baseball, it's troubling that the Joe can't consistently approach a 20,066 sellout.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.