Fehr and Yandle are the new big players on the NHL scene

Mike Boone linked to Roy MacGregor’s Globe and Mail piece on Gary Bettman earlier today (which features a pretty offensive rodent-like caricature of the commissioner — the Globe and Mail just loves to run unflattering illustratons of Bettman) so, in the interests of equal time for hockey’s version of class struggle, Jeff Z. Klein on The NY Times Slapshot blog has posted an extensive Q&A with Don Fehr, the new executive director of the NHLPA.

It’s an interesting interview but you won’t find any explosive revelations there. Fehr is still new on the job and he’s certainly not going to make major pronouncements until he has fully digested the relevant information, which he has yet to do — and he admits to that. And in any case, he doesn’t seem like the kind of person to divulge inside information in the media prior to communicating it to his constituents or even his adversaries (or partners, depending on how you view the NHL-NHLPA relationship).

But I can tell you from speaking with Jeff after he did the interview
that he came away mightily impressed with Fehr’s intellect, to the point
that what you read in the Q&A is verbatim, not at all edited, and
the reflects exactly the way Mr. Fehr speaks, in pretty complex but very cogent
sentences. As Jeff writes, “Throughout the interview, Fehr spoke in the grammatically precise
phrases that mark his speech.” So, he’s a smart and articulate guy who chooses his words carefully.

And he repeated the message he’s conveyed earlier concerning his reputation among some that he’s going to be a troublesome force in the hockey business because he led the baseball strike of 1994-95: “If you look at what happened in baseball the last 16 years that I ran
the organization, we had our disputes and differences and all the rest
of it, but we had nothing that threatened or upset the fundamental
balance of the relationship. The dialogue was civil. And I remember what
it was like before, so I know both sides.

“On balance, I know how to represent the players in an aggressive way
if need be, but the object, however, is to reach agreements.”

*     *     *

It’s not real hockey, but the All-Star Game does give fans an
opportunity to appreciate some of the rising stars of the NHL who are
just starting to get broader recognition. One of those is the Coyotes
Keith Yandle.

Gazette sports editor Stu Cowan blogged about Yandle yesterday, calling him “The Unknown All-Star” and wisely included the Shane Doan quote that seems to have gotten around pretty fast in the four days since he was selected to play in the All-Star Game: “I would say last year he was
probably the best player on the ice 50 per cent of the time,” Doan said
of Yandle. “This year, I’d say he’s probably the best player 75 per cent
of the time. He is an elite defenceman. I’d put him up with (Mike Green
of the Washington Capitals) and (the San Jose Sharks Dan Boyle), those
type of players. And he’s such a great guy in our room.

“Everyone loves him.”

The 24-year-old Yandle has taken over the scoring leadership among defencemen with 8 goals and 38 assists, and as James Duthie mentioned last night during the All-Star draft, he tied for the league’s leading scorer in the month of January.

While he’s got great offensive instincts and skates exceptionally, he can play a nasty game as well for someone who is not exactly Chris Pronger-sized (Yandle is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds). 

Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic had a piece on Yandle this week and the fourth year NHLer credited Coyote veterans with helping him get this far. “Mo (Derek Morris) has been a guy since day one, him and Doaner and Jovo
(Ed Jovanovski), they are the guys who have been here, really helped me
out, put me under their wing and have guided me in the right direction.”

A Boston native, Yandle attended Cushing Academy where one of his teammates was Ray Bourque’s son Chris, (who is playing in Europe this year after stints with the Capitals and Penguins). He was drafted by the Coyotes in the fourth round in ’05 — the post lockout draft in Ottawa where the Pens took Sidney Crosby 105 picks before Yandle was taken.

Yandle had a chance to attend the University of New Hampshire after he was drafted, but opted instead to play in the QMJHL with Moncton. In his one season with the Wildcats, 2005-06, he displayed a pro-level shot (video), scored 25 goals and got 59 assists, was a plus-50 and picked up 109 PIMs. Moncton won the “Q” championship that year and Yandle won the Emile “Butch” Bouchard Trophy (Best Defenceman), the Telus
Defensive Player of the Year award, was named to a “Q” first team All-Star (the other first team All-Star D-man was Kris Letang) and
was  the Canadian Major Junior Defenceman of the Year.

When Nick Lidstrom picked Yandle in the All-Star draft on Friday, Yandle was probably as pumped up as any pick. He told Gintonio earlier that he was hoping to chat with Lidstrom and pick his brain, in part
because Lidstrom is second-favorite defenseman after his pal Chris Bourque’s father.

“But he seems like such a great guy, obviously he’s a future Hall of
Famer,” Yandle said of Lidstrom. “Every guy there is going to be fun to meet and
get to know.”

Yandle is on the second year of a deal that pays him only $1.3
million (Capgeek.com lists his cap hit at $1.2 mil) and he’ll be an RFA
in July, so he’s a bargain right now. What it will take to re-sign him
and whether another team will chance an offer sheet will be compelling
questions in the offseason.

Here’s some more video of Yandle. And now he’s not so unknown.

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