TORONTO — NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh spoke to assembled media for the first time on Thursday in Toronto, as he takes on his new role during a crucial juncture in the organization’s history.
Walsh joins the NHLPA having previously served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor in President Joe Biden’s administration, resigning from the cabinet in February in order to join the players’ association. The 55-year-old was also the Mayor of Boston from January 2014-March 2021, before joining Biden’s administration.
Prior to taking questions from the media, Walsh spoke about the importance of inclusion, workers’ rights, labor issues and how he created 140,000 new jobs while serving as Mayor of Boston. Walsh is extremely proud of his union record and spoke fondly several times about his work with the Biden government.
“The number one priority is talking to the players," Walsh said. "I made it very clear to the players in all my previous roles and in politics. It’s very important to me to talk to the players and talk about what their issues are, what their concerns are moving forward. I’m going to be wherever the players are going to be in the NHL. Really understanding for them what’s important for them moving forward.
"Collective bargaining is down the road a little bit and the solution is front and center, we want to make sure we hear their concerns. Whether it’s them playing in the World Cup of Hockey or whether they’re concerned about what’s going on in the locker room, that’s what we’re going to be doing. That’s my priority. As well as learning the inner workings of the NHLPA. And also building relationships. I’m planning on building relationships with the NHL, Commissioner [Gary] Bettman and also the owners.”
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2026 and Walsh didn’t appear too concerned about a new framework being reached in time.
“Would I be interested in seeing the cap go up? Yes, but the players are not interested in raising the escrow right now,” Walsh added.
Walsh said he met with current players Kyle Okposo, Ian Cole, Sam Gagner, Mattias Ekholm, Zach Hyman, James van Riemsdyk, Justin Faulk, Nate Schmidt, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jacob Trouba to learn about the future of the NHLPA, thanking them for their time and deep appreciation for their care and concern.
I asked NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh about if he believes NHL players and teams opting out of Pride Nights is a fundamental human rights issue, and where he can help the NHL actualize policies to make the sport welcoming for gay and trans communities. Full answer soon. https://t.co/0Gcl7G7pQD
— Arun Srinivasan (@Arunthings) March 30, 2023
Throughout the season, the NHL has faced widespread criticism for allowing teams and players to opt out of Pride Nights. Walsh has been a longtime advocate of the LGBTQ+ community but provided a somewhat contradictory answer, citing Bettman’s statement about how he supports individual rights, which sparked pushback from gay and trans communities.
“First and foremost, Commissioner Bettman said the other day he supports people’s individual rights and I agree with him on that,” Walsh said. “Personally, in 2004 in Massachussets, when the Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled gay marriage was legal in Massachusetts, I was one of the members who was supportive of marriage equality.
"I have always been a very strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. I have a history of that, whether as a legislator, as the mayor of the city of Boston, I’ve been fully supportive of the trans community. We raised the trans flag in front of city hall when legislation passed in Massachusetts. Certainly as Secretary of Labor, same thing.
"I think the league will have conservations going forward. I think it's really important as a league, and in locker rooms, that we're inclusive and that we support all people’s rights that support the game. Again, we probably have some work to do there too as well.”
In a follow-up question, Walsh appeared to change his stance.
“I think it’s people’s individual rights if they want to wear a jersey. It’s a warmup jersey before the game skate. I don’t think the LGBTQ+ community should feel that NHL players are turning their back on that community. The majority of the players have worn the jersey. A super majority of the players have worn the jersey.”
Walsh appeared enthusiastic to establish a best-on-best international tournament. The most recent World Cup of Hockey took place in 2016, where Canada emerged victorious.
"Let's establish the program. Let's establish the World Cup of Hockey back and let's have a forward-looking schedule to see, so people can be consistent with it," Walsh said. "Fans love it, players love it, it's important for us to do it."
Walsh was also asked whether Russia would be allowed to participate in a best-on-best international tournament while waging war against Ukraine.
“I think that right now, commenting on what's going on in the world, things can change and different things can happen, so I think it's a little too early to talk about who's involved with the tournament or not," Walsh said. "But I think we should get the tournament on paper. Start the conversation, really get it going, moving forward and what this would look like.”
Walsh also addressed the ongoing sexual assault investigation involving members of the 2018 Canadian World Juniors team. The IIHF stated earlier this week that any members from the 2018 team would be barred from all international events until the investigation has been concluded.
“We’ll have to wait until the findings come out,” Walsh said. “Right now, it’s an ongoing investigation. I can’t comment on the investigation at the moment. But any situations that arise with a player, whatever it is, in finding whatever it is, it’s something that we will take very seriously at the NHLPA. In these situations, you’re innocent until proven guilty, and we represent the players.”