Penguins' Talbot acts as go-to guy between teammates, players' association
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Max Talbot has handled some of hockey's most thankless jobs.
He has killed penalties, done a lot of dirty work along the boards and in the corners and used his body to stop everything from slap shots to right jabs.
All of those things have helped to prepare him for what might be his least-appreciated role anyone in his line of work can have: player rep.
Talbot took over that job, in which he serves as the liaison between his team and the NHL Players' Association, from Matt Cooke this season.
That means he's the guy who attends NHLPA meetings, sits in on its conference calls and fields questions from teammates about any number of union-related topics.
"It's pretty interesting," Talbot said. "You feel like you can make a little difference.
"I'm at the age now where I want to learn and be informed about what's going on, and being the player rep is a good way to do that."
Actually, a player doesn't have to assume the formal duties of that role if he simply wants to keep up with off-ice developments that affect his profession.
"The one thing I've stressed with these guys is that anybody can go on a conference call," Cooke said. "Any one of the 22 guys can actually be on the call. You don't ever have to talk. You can mute your phone. It's pretty easy, but you learn what's going on."
Staying abreast of the issues is important for Talbot, but getting an inside look at how the NHLPA operates might well prove to be a primer for his post-hockey career.
"You learn how the union works, all of our rights," he said. "You learn the structure of the company, you learn about the collective bargaining agreement, the one [now in effect] and what's going to happen in the next couple of years and what direction we want to take.
"It's a big business. The more you're aware, the more you're questioned about it, it makes you more aware of everything. Yes, it's for hockey now, but it can be [applied to] any company.
"When someone has a chance to be in a on a phone call with 50 people, and 20 really intelligent suits are trying to talk you into things and you're trying to make a decision, it's a really good business experience. It looks good on the resume, and it's interesting to do."
The NHLPA's top priority at the moment is finding an executive director to replace Paul Kelly, who was fired Aug. 31. Attending that meeting of the executive council, which consists of the player reps from each club, was Talbot's introduction to the job, although previously he had been Cooke's assistant.
"I reported what happened to the team, and we asked the team what direction we wanted to take," he said. "I'm kind of the voice of the team, but it's obviously a team decision.
"That's what I'm trying to do most, to report to the team what's going on and then, as a team, we make decisions."
A search committee consisting of Ryan Getzlaf, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rafalski, Brian Rolston and Mathieu Schneider is working with Donald Fehr, former head of Major League Baseball's union, to settle on qualifications for Kelly's successor and to identify candidates for the job.
"They're going to report to us," Talbot said.
And Talbot, in turn, will brief his teammates and try to answer any questions they might have, as well as collect input on who should take over Kelly's former position.
There is no tangible payoff for serving as player rep. Aside from a little gratitude inside the locker room, the only thing player reps can count on is having a lot less free time than they did before they got involved.
"It comes with a lot of responsibilities," Cooke said. "The perk of that job is to make sure that our union goes in the right way, to set our union up for success and do our best to avoid any circumstances like we went through the last four years."
The years since the current CBA took effect in 2005 have been rife with chaos and controversy for the NHLPA. Trying to break that cycle of turmoil is one of Talbot's primary objectives.
"It's learning what we've done before," he said. "And trying to fix that and learn from it."
NOTE -- The Penguins' game against Toronto at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena falls on the ninth anniversary of Mario Lemieux coming out of retirement Dec. 27, 2000, for a game against the Maple Leafs.
First Published December 26, 2009 12:00 am