Saturday, 18 December 2010

Fear Or Fair?

It is with great interest to the rest of the hockey world that the NHLPA introduced Donald Fehr as their new Executive Director yesterday afternoon. The 62 year-old negotiator put off retirement to join the NHLPA as they prepare for upcoming negotiations in 2011 with the NHL. Fehr previously held the position of MLBPA Executive Director for 24 years, and won several major cases against MLB with regards to collusion and replacement players. And perhaps most infamously for Canadians, Fehr successfully led the MLBPA in a strike that canceled the 1995 World Series when the Montreal Expos were on top of the Major League Baseball standings. Because of this, you'll have to forgive Canadians when they feel a little hesitant towards the appointment of Fehr as the top man in the NHLPA.

I'll be honest: I don't know very much about Donald Fehr simply because I don't really follow baseball as closely as I probably should. I do know that Fehr's name sometimes irks MLB's owners, so there's probably a good reason that hockey owners have a little apprehension over Fehr's appointment.

To introduce Canadians to Mr. Fehr, the CBC, specifically Elliotte Friedman and Ron MacLean, presented an excellent piece this evening on Mr. Fehr, and I was very curious as to how he would come off on this piece. I'll have my thoughts below, but this 13-minute clip should bring to light a little bit of Mr. Fehr's personality for Canadians who may not be as knowledgeable about him as our American neighbours.

Marvin Miller ran the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982, and transformed the MLBPA from an also-ran union into one of the United States' most powerful unions in history. Some of Miller's accomplishments included getting arbitration introduced into baseball, eradicating the "reserve clause" in baseball and introducing full free agency, and getting baseball's minimum salary to increase 1268% from $19,000 to $241,000. Clearly, he was a dynamo, and Fehr worked under him until he took over in 1985. However, under Miller, Fehr also witnessed three strikes that crippled baseball in the early-1980s.

To me, it sounds like Mr. Fehr understands the global game of hockey better than the men who preceded him in the NHLPA. In his interview with MacLean, he addresses the European market where hockey is already being played and is somewhat thriving, he addresses the international game in terms of IIHF's stance on the Olympics and the World Championships, and he gets that there is a large percentage of the NHL that comes from overseas. That's something that I think the NHL is interested in exploring, and it sounds like Mr. Fehr has a grasp of wanting to explore those markets in both a growth role and a financial role.

It also sounds like Mr. Fehr is an advocate for the players, and will keep players informed of what is happening during negotiations. There was some rumbling from players about the lack of transparency at the top of the NHLPA in the last few years, and there was certainly a sense of "traitorism" when Bob Goodenow agreed to the 24% rollback in salaries. Mr. Fehr, without being confrontational, said exactly what the players want to hear: we'll keep you informed as to what is happening in the negotiations, and we'll bring you to the negotiating table if you have questions about what is being put forth. That, to me, sounds like crystal clear transparency, and that has to please the players.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Fehr will accomplish as the top man in the NHLPA as he starts in his role in the NHLPA, but his interview leaves me thinking that he's going into these new CBA negotiations with the players' wants and needs in mind while being respectful of the owners' wishes in order to prevent another work stoppage in the NHL. As a fan, I can honestly say that hearing this sentiment is a relief when negotiations in the past seemed like a shootout at the OK Corral.

While his name is pronounced "fear", I'd say Mr. Fehr is all about fair right now. And for the NHL, NHLPA, and the fans, that's all we want to see in these new negotiations.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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