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Jeremy Sandler, CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, February 09, 2007

TORONTO - Heart-shaped balloons delivered to a Toronto hotel Thursday were not going to decorate the meeting between the NHL Players' Association and player agents.

Someone else at the Harbour Castle would be enjoying the early Valentine's treat.

Elsewhere, the regularly scheduled annual meeting to discuss the mundane topics such as grievance filings, contract negotiations and health benefits had an added element of intrigue this year.

Hanging over the event is the union's internecine battle between union members, and by extension, their agents. Dissidents led by Chris Chelios, Dwayne Roloson and the retired Trent Klatt have been fighting the hiring of executive director Ted Saskin since he took over from Bob Goodenow in the summer of 2005.

Late last month, the PA executive voted to have Toronto lawyer Sheila Block conduct an independent review of the union's business, something Saskin addressed early Thursday.

"He made reference to the fact he'd been in contact with Sheila Block, that they'd had some discussions, and that he intends on co-operating with the investigation," said Don Meehan, a high-profile agent whose clients include NHLPA president Trevor Linden.

Meehan said he does not hear much concern about the ongoing dispute over Saskin.

"I think most of my clients are concerned about the ongoing business of the industry," he said. "How do we make the game more successful, more productive, more financially rewarding, and most of my time is related to dealing with those issues."

On those matters, Saskin said things are looking good for the players. He said "conservative" estimates show a five per cent increase in league revenues this season to about $2.3 billion US. The increase means the players should get back the portion of their salaries being held in escrow. It also means a likely increase in the NHL's salary cap from $44 million this season to somewhere between $47-$48 million for the 2007-'08 campaign. Reports said the salary cap could be as high as $52 million by 2010.

As for Block's inquiry into the union's business, Saskin said it would be inappropriate to comment on the details, but that he was hoping it will end within two months.

"We all want to see closure to this," Saskin said.

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