NHL Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh revealed on Frankly Speaking that union consultant and former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis will be departing the NHLPA when his contract expires at the end of December. Gillis, who was spearheading the players union’s group licensing approach since July 2021, was a finalist for the executive director position that ultimately went to Walsh.
“When his contract is over, it’s over,” Walsh said in an interview at the Global Series in Stockholm, Sweden. “He was brought in to look at some business stuff and that contract is going to expire in the next few weeks. That will be it for him.”
The other reported finalist for Walsh’s job, Mathieu Schneider, “parted ways” with the NHLPA in August after 12 years as second-in-command to predecessor Donald Fehr. Schneider was instrumental in Fehr’s regime and a key figure in the 2012-13 lockout.
“Mathieu did a good job,” Walsh said. “There’s going to be changes when new leadership comes in. Basically, we just made some changes there. I think that’s going to happen in any organization – it happened when I was Mayor, it happened when I was Labor Secretary. You just have those changes.”
Those two departures have resulted in a consolidation of power for former player Ron Hainsey, who was named to a newly created position as NHLPA assistant executive director in May, six weeks after Walsh’s tenure began. Hainsey, 42, was previously assistant to the executive director for special projects and development initiatives. He played a large role in steering the selection committee that ultimately landed on Walsh, the two-term mayor of Boston and sitting United States Secretary of Labor.
“Ron was part of the PA prior to me coming here and he basically took the lead in the search with the players,” Walsh explained. “As the process went on and as closer to the end, and when I got selected by the players and voted in by the executive board, I talked to Ron about staying on. He was obviously going to stay on anyway, in some capacity, with his connection to the players.
Walsh said Hainsey is going to play a “big part, a real big part” in what happens next at the NHLPA.
“We work very closely together, there’s nothing we do without talking to each other,” Walsh said. “I find that very helpful moving forward. That’s pretty much my style. When you’re the mayor, you’re the mayor – there is no second mayor. But I worked pretty closely with my chief of staffs or people in my office. I would always bounce things off of people. I’m not the type of person that’s always right, I like to have someone to bounce stuff off of, and me and Ron bounce off of each other well.”
Even with Gillis leaving, Walsh said the NHLPA aims to ramp up group licensing agreements, which he acknowledged as “hugely fertile” ground for hockey. Group licensing is when the name, image or likeness of two or more players are used for a commercial product – such as trading cards, video games, t-shirts, memorabilia or advertising campaigns. It does not include NHL team logos or word marks, only players.
It’s believed that the MLBPA, NFLPA and NBPA group licensing deals each generate multiple hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue for their unions, which results in a check back to all players, while the NHLPA group licensing deals to this point total in the low tens of millions per year.
“We’re really thinking about how we change that,” Walsh acknowledged. “We’re going to build up the business now and support the people that are there. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
Walsh and Hainsey are already on their way. At the Global Series in Stockholm, the NHLPA hosted an event for European business partners, sponsors and potential sponsors – something the union has never done before on an international trip. Players from all four teams in Sweden stopped by to mingle and help promote the business of the union.
“Every leader has a different perspective on how to move forward,” Walsh said. “I think we can obviously keep a priority of collective bargaining on the top, sponsorship and licensing on the top. Everything we do can be the most important issue to the PA. We can’t prioritize what’s the most important – they’re all really important. As we get closer to 2026, collective bargaining and the agreement will take center stage. But leading up to that, there’s a lot we can do before that.”
Want to learn more about Walsh, his time in President Biden’s cabinet, and his role as Designated Survivor on the night of the State of the Union address? For the full interview with Walsh, listen to Frankly Speaking below, watch on the Daily Faceoff YouTube channel, or download wherever you get your podcasts.
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