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New NHLPA Leader Marty Walsh Meets the Press

The Hockey News 3/30/2023 Ryan Kennedy

The Boston native and lifelong union man came to Toronto and fielded questions about the World Cup of Hockey, Pride Night and the salary cap, among other topics.

Marty Walsh Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETW © Provided by The Hockey News Marty Walsh Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETW

New NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh made his first official appearance in front of the hockey media today, holding a press conference in Toronto and introducing himself to the sport at large. While Walsh is still getting his feet under him at union, he did answer questions on a number of hot-button issues going on in the hockey world today, while also revealing some insight into his professional past and how he hopes to operate with the NHLPA.

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Walsh, whose previous job was as U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Joe Biden, is a union man through and through; he and his family are card-carrying members with a background in construction and labor and Walsh himself was a union leader in Boston before eventually becoming mayor of the city. An important distinction Walsh made between himself and previous NHLPA leaders is the fact he is not a lawyer, but a labor leader.

His hockey fandom goes way back as well. Walsh battled cancer as a child and while he was in the hospital, he was visited by Bruins legend Bobby Orr (who himself was on crutches at the time). Walsh later had season tickets to the Bruins and knows the Jacobs family personally.

As for his leadership style, it's clear that Walsh wants to have an open line of communication with the union's membership.

"The players deserve a leader who knows who they are, who knows their families," he said. "It's really about understanding each other and knowing each other."

In terms of his relationship with commissioner Gary Bettman, Walsh joked that as long as the commissioner agrees with him, they'll get along just fine. For the record however, they've already chatted in person and did know each other before Walsh was on the radar for the PA job.

In terms of the big issues of the day (since the Collective Bargaining Agreement is sewn up for now), best-on-best international hockey was a popular topic, especially since Russia is still invading Ukraine and was recently banned from international competition for another year by the IIHF. A return of the World Cup of Hockey has been a big priority for players and fans lately and Russia's potential participation has muddied earlier plans. For Walsh, it's important to at least lay a groundwork for the next World Cup.

"We should get the tournament down on paper," he said. "Then obviously we can deal with any challenges that come up. Fans love it, players love it and it's important for us to do it."

He also noted that Olympic participation is in the CBA. For the record, the next Winter Games are to be held in Italy in 2026 - likely a more desirable location for the NHL in terms of travel and time zones/TV ratings than the previous two Olympics in Asia (not to mention the fact the most recent was held during the pandemic).

In terms of the salary cap, there have been rumblings about the NHLPA allowing for more of a boost over the summer, but that would trigger higher escrow - and that sounds like a non-starter.

"We're open to the conversation," Walsh said. "But we're not open to changing escrow."

The most controversial issue in the NHL right now, however, has been the rift over Pride night participation. And while Walsh noted that a "super majority" of players have worn Pride warmup jerseys this season, it must be said that it has been the handful of players who have outspokenly not worn the sweaters that has kept social media busy lately.

Walsh was asked about the issue in several different ways during his availability, and though his political career saw him help the LGBTQ+ community in a number of ways, he more or less punted on the question of how NHLers should comport themselves.

"Commissioner Bettman said the other day that he supports individual rights and I agree with him on that," Walsh said. "I've always been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. It's really important that the league and the locker rooms are inclusive and that we support all peoples' rights to support the game."

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