Back in the fall of 2009, the NHL Players Association brought in outgoing MLBPA director Donald Fehr as an unpaid consultant. After years of turmoil, leadership changes, and general unrest Fehr was brought in to chart a course for the PA, and hopefully help find a successor to the fired Paul Kelly as executive director.
Well it seems that if the players had their vote, they would choose Fehr.
There's nothing that doesn't make sense about this from the players point of view; Fehr has quite the track record when it comes to hard-line, uncompromising negotiations. He led the MLB union for 26 years, never budging on salaries, and oversaw 5 different labour negotiations. This must be music to the players ears, especially while their still licking their wounds from the last CBA negotiation.
All these things that make Fehr admired by the members of the NHLPA are the same things that make fans nervous at the prospect of having him go toe-to-toe with Bettman come 2012. This is when the new CBA will be negotiated, and if Fehr is dealing on behalf of the PA you can bet it won't be a clean one. Fehr has made no bones about the fact that he does not like salary caps, even going as far to say he would like to institute the same principles that made the MLBPA so successful to the NHLPA.
After a long tortuous battle over a salary cap in the last CBA, fans have a right to be a little concerned about the chances of it happening again.
Let's be clear though, Fehr knows another work stoppage would be the nail in the coffin for the NHL. Bettman understands this too. So realistically I would imagine both would be trying to avoid such an outcome. But, neither will sacrifice their demands just to get it done. We've seen this before in examples of labour negotiations that both men have been a part in, and let's just say neither has a penchant for kicking their mandates to curb.
Another thing that has to be pointed out as well, Fehr has not accepted, or denied interest in the Executive Director position. This may all be moot if he doesn't end up taking it. But one thing is becoming clear, and that is Fehr is winning over a lot of people in the PA's corner. If he is the guy they want, you can bet the players, agents and lawyers will be pulling out all the stops to get him on board.
The one thing that is comforting with the thought of Fehr at the helm of the PA is his ability to at least build a stable, working condition between the NHL and the NHLPA. Something that has not been attained since the lockout left scars that saw leaders dismissed, e-mails being spied upon and a whole other mess of shenanigans that has made the PA look like a circus the past few years. One only has to look at the way the new head-shot rule was handled, and you can see how dysfunctional a relationship these two parties have.
Either way something has to be done. The players are longing for somebody with credibility and a firm grasp on labour laws to lead them into a new CBA, and for that I don't blame them. After the last five years they've had, some peace of mind would be a welcome change.
As for the fans, we just have to wait and see. It's a long way down the road, but with the last lockout still fresh in our minds, the last thing anyone wants is another one.