Fehr’s task bigger than fighting image problem

The election by the NHL players of Don Fehr to be their new executive
director may throw a chill into some fans who anticipate another
damaging work stoppage in hockey — especially those Montrealers who
recall the Expos losing a shot at post-season play when baseball’s
players, led by Fehr, went on strike in 1994.  But Fehr had some words for them in his
conference call on Saturday.

“A lot of people have
knee-jerk reactions to
things, but a knee-jerk reaction that would say my background with the
baseball players association suggests I
am a hawk such that it necessarily means there will be problems in the
negotiations I don’t think reflects a very complete or sophisticated
understanding of what we went through,” he said.

“You have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the owners
and we will do that and they have an obligation to negotiate in good
faith with the players and I trust and hope they will do that.

“We treat a work stoppage, a strike, as a last resort and it’s
something you consider only when you believe that all alternatives have
failed. If you would ask me if I anticipate a stoppage, I would say no
and I certainly hope we won’t have one but I’m not going to predict what
happens in negotiations.

“If there can be a way to find a shared
common goal of a vision for the
future and a desire to try and figure out what that should be and what
kind of agreements should be reached to make that more rather than less
likely, that ought to be what we are trying to do.

“I’m looking
forward to what the following months and years may bring,
especially the period leading up to and the negotiation of the new CBA.
It’s an important time for the players, I think it’s an important time
for the industry and I think viewed with a proper perspective it can be a
very positive time for all involved.”

To those who look at
Fehr’s record in collective bargaining as head of the MLB Players
Association and see only the negative —  the work stoppages and a lost
post-season, he suggested to Ron MacLean on CBC (video) that wasn’t the whole picture.
“It’s funny to
hear people say that because
there’s been far more labour peace in baseball the last 16 years than
there has been in the other (pro sports leagues). And if you read the
newspapers
now, it certainly looks that way again. We did have our share of
difficulties, but that was a while ago and we got past it.”
The CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Fehr and
baseball’s owners had a change of attitutude about work stoppages after
the strike of ’94. Friedman quotes Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, who
is a friend of Fehr’s, saying “I think at one time [Don] thought about
the players, first, foremost
and solely. I think how he looks at them first, foremost, but not
solely. I think the reality of the situation is that Don wanted to be
part of
the solution.
“We sat down and said,
‘Let’s not let this happen again. Let’s learn
from our mistakes…we can be adversaries, but we don’t have to be
enemies.’ And that I think was the key. It went from an enemy
relationship to an adversary relationship.”
On TSN.ca, David Naylor points out that Fehr “negotiated five
collective agreements, successfully sued the owners
three times for collusion and had the unwavering support of his players
through good times and bad including three work stoppages.”
The fact that the courts found baseball’s owners
had broken the law multiple times in pursuit of their labour relations
agenda gives some indication about their level of good faith and why
those work stoppages might have taken place.
While Fehr may have to combat an image problem
with hockey fans and the media, his biggest task will be uniting a union
that has been wracked by dissention and divergent interests in the last
five years, stemming from the outcome of the 2004-05 lockout.
“A union that gets beaten
and broken is gone,” Marvin Miller, Fehr’s mentor at the MLBPA, told
Elliotte Friedman. “You gotta start from
scratch. It’s not the same as a hockey team losing a game or losing the
Stanley Cup final. You can always recoup from that…A union that is
beaten thoroughly by management; I’m not saying that they can’t come
back. It’s that it’s that much harder.”
And the hardest test should come in the
negotiations on the CBA, which expires in September, 2012.
“He isn’t going to be able to turn back the clock with respect to
the
salary cap in the NHL, but he will be fighting to keep whatever they
have earned and to lose as little as possible,” writes Scott Morrison on
cbc.ca
. “And he will be a
formidable adversary for (Gary) Bettman, the best he has seen in his
days
running the NHL.”
Chris Stevenson’s piece on Fehr in The Ottawa Sun takes the
Montreal angle. He quotes Fehr saying, “I think it’s too bad there isn’t
a team in Montreal anymore and
hopefully there will be….More people than you have reflected in the
ensuing years on the
strength of that extraordinary Expos team in 1994.”
“The Expos were riding
high, the Big O was
packed and they were singing ‘Valderee, Valdera’ and dancing in the
aisles,” Stevenson writes. “Unfortunately, Fehr called for a strike that
wiped out the season and
killed the Expos’ chances of going to the World Series against the New
York Yankees and, by extension, paved the way for the Expos’ demise
in Montreal (that’s a sentence that might set a record for monstrous
assumptions).”
In The Toronto Star,
Damien Cox
mentions another part of Fehr’s record: “A major part of
Fehr’s baseball legacy is the stubborn resistance he
showed for years in citing ‘civil liberties’ while fighting significant
drug testing, as the grand old game became enmeshed in a damaging
steroid era.
“Now he’s coming to an NHL rink near you, joining
an industry that
has one weak drug testing policy in place.”

Cox also writes he’s
heard talk that former Hab Mathieu Schneider, who was part of the search

committee for a new NHLPA executive director, “may end up being Fehr’s
top
hockey lieutenant.”

23 Comments

  1. bobinsask says:

    Yes, it should provide great theatre.  I can’t believe the owners are placing their future in Bettman’s hands.

  2. NightRyder says:

    I’ll be fascinated to see how this plays out. In reality, the league needs to get rid of four-to-eight teams to be truly healthy. But that would mean the loss of a bunch of jobs.

    Plus, Bettman doesn’t ever want to be seen as wrong when it comes to his “no crappy U.S. market left unexplored” strategy.

    Fehr is almost as arrogant and condescending as Bettman. At the very least, it should provide good theatre.

  3. bobinsask says:

    Fehr points to the labour peace in MLB as a sign of success.  In reality, MLB is a basket case.  Once in a while there will be an outlier event but the truth is that teams like Kansas City will be nothing but cannon fodder for the Yankees and the Red Sox.  They are condemned to being also-rans under the current structure.

    MLB is not a league… it is a stage on which to show the world the Yankees and other big market teams.

    Look at the Blue Jays.  Once a robust franchise which sent an attendance record they are now struggling in mediocrity.  Average attendance has dropped by 20,000 fans per game.  This is a team that once enjoyed success on the field and at the box office.  It is not like the NHL situation in Phoenix and Atlanta where there never were any fans.

    If the Fehr structure can destroy strong a once strong franchise like the Jays, what will it do to the struggling NHL franchises.

    I am concerned.

  4. G-Man says:

    Bettman is what’s wrong with hockey today. 30 teams and 6 or more that don’t draw fans and we have to prop up with our dollars buying tickets. Fehr is a “more” for the players guy- meaning there will be a long and bitter strike.

    This is not the “trendy” thing to do. That pair have helped f@ck up pro sports and will do so again. Just watch.

  5. habsguy says:

    LOL, can’t let it go can you,  you leaf fans are all the same!!!!!…LOL

  6. DearyLeary says:

    I’m sorry, I liked the Expos, and baseball when I was a kid.  In ’94 we had a real shot at the World Series, they went on strike, this wasn’t a missed call, this was a strike that accomplished absolutely nothing.  ’94 was the death knell for the Expos franchise, and it killed my enjoyment of baseball too.

    Nobody likes refs, in your example, some people actually liked baseball.

  7. Thomas Le Fan says:

    And you sound like you’re fifteen. Or maybe that’s an actual photo. Now quiet, adults are talking.

  8. Exit716 says:

    Ditto. After 94, I gave up on MLB.

  9. Johnny_D says:

    Fehr was the reason the Expos got screwed, all we need now is Loria to buy a Canadian team and wreck it and the NHL will soon look like MLB … zero Canadian teams.  I don’t count Toronto, might as well be an American city.

  10. G-Man says:

    Fehr = work stoppage. Smart move by the NHLPA- not! However, Bettman still NHL commish after the failed go south experiment? Just as Duh as Fehr.

    Do these idiots ever really consider the fans?

  11. Lazarus_taxa says:

    Wait, the NHL PLAYERS UNION (a body that exclusively deals with the players) doesn’t consider the fans.  Is that what you are whining about?  Good for the players!  They hired someone who is qualified to re-negotiate the CBA.  The baseball and hockey context are completely different.  Why is everyone freaking out for no reason?  Lets all pretend Damien Cox is not a sensationalist reporter.  Lets blindly follow what everyone is saying without recognizing that this is not major league baseball.  Lets blast Gary Bettman for no reason because it is the trendy thing to do.  I like Bettman, I think he does a good job considering how hard it must be, despite all the bashers that just say whatever everyone else is saying without backing it up.

  12. Thomas Le Fan says:

    I depise Fehr (and Loria) over what happened to the Expos and their dream season. My “knee jerk reaction” would have him singing soprano. I fear for hockey with Buttman and this idiot and the other idiots in management coming together.

    Year 2015: Sports Centre Newsflash: Sidney Crosby’s been traded to … Stockholm.

  13. habsguy says:

    God…….you guys sound like 93 leaf fans ( if they would have given gretzky a penalty )….let it go !!!!!

  14. JustSomeguy says:

    In other news …

    Did anyone watch the Leafs / ‘Nucks game last night? HNIC had us in stitches with their attempts, in the first couple periods, to turn Kessel into a Genuine Marquee Player. You know, highlights that showed him (not) scoring, comments praising his grit and determination.

    Kessel ended the night off the score sheet at -2.

    There’s some awfully bad mojo circling the Leafs, MLSE, and HNIC. HNIC seems to have decided that the Leafs are Canada’s team and is DESPERATE to turn the Leafs into a contender with one of the league’s best players. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that MLSE and CBC have been working together to keep interest in Leafs Nation alive … despite the Leafs playing some of the worst hockey in the league.

    It’s Hockey Night in Canada, not Hockey Night in Tronna. HNIC has turned into a regional broadcast, pure and simple.

    The Canucks have two potential Hart candidates in the Sedins. They’re among the elite teams in the league; they’re top 5 in GA, PK, and PP. Meanwhile, the Leafs are bottom 5 for GF, PP, and PK … and are 23rd for GA. But HNIC glosses over how good Vancouver is in order to praise a bottom feeder.

    OMG.

    HNIC needs to be reset.

  15. HabFanSince72 says:

    HNIC aside, the CBC is publicly funded and has a remit to promote Canadian culture. Having the CBC centralized in Toronto  is the real scandal. The CBC has a huge headquarters in Toronto, while local CBC stations are minuscule. HNIC’s Toronto bias is just one manifestation of this skew.

    Here’s another problem: the Canadian government spends (a bit) more on the CBC than it does on medical research.This is insane, when you look at the quality of the programming.

     

  16. 24 Cups says:

    Don’t assume Fehr’s appointment means there will be another labour war.

  17. B says:

    The players seem to be doing pretty good right now. I just hope Fehr doesn’t think he has to come in and win something back for the players.

  18. TommyB says:

    I get the feeling that if the players felt they were doing pretty good right now they wouldn’t have gone after Fehr.  I feel there is a storm brewing, and with the egos of both Fehr for the players, and Bettman for the owners, it does not bode well for the next CBA negotiations.  Players might be looking toward what kind of money baseball players are getting and thinking they are getting screwed, so let’s bring in that baseball guy and see where it goes.  You also look at Fehr’s record of going after owners on the collusion issue in baseball, and bring that into the equation for hockey.  I certainly feel there is a good amount of collusion amongst the hockey owners, and they won’t appreciate a union guy with a reputation such as Fehr’s coming in and upsetting the cart.

    Fehr has come out of retirement to take this hockey job.  He knows jack about hockey, so it’s not like he has an interest in the sport itself.  Coming out of retirement, he is definitely not in it for the long haul.  So, in his short time as NHLPA boss, he will want to “accomplish” something.  Just what that is, remains to be seen.  I’m not optimistic.

  19. HabFanSince72 says:

    Actually, I would love another strike. But this time hopefully a new pro hockey league will form to offer employment to the players.

    The NHL is hopeless.

     

  20. Bill H says:

    Boston beat Washington and Atlanta beat NJD last night.  So Atlanta has now jumped to second place in the conference while Capitals are in number 7 spot.  Yes, that can happen in one night.

    Habs played well against Bruins the other night and got a well deserved win.  So the Bruins are back in 8th place while our Habs are still in third place.  But the Bruins are just 2 points back with 1 game in hand.

    I am very happy with how our team has been playing.  But another 3 game losing streak could drop us to 8th place or even out of playoffs very quickly.  Let’s hope our upcoming 7 game road trip goes well.

    They say Markov is out for the season, but he came back from the 2 previous injuries ahead of schedule.  I wonder if there is a chance he could be back for a deep playoff run.  How sweet that would be.

  21. Exit716 says:

    After the owners crush Fehr like a cockroach, who will be the next NHLPA head? Glenn Healy? Screw you Fehr, if you think you’re going to screw the fans of Montreal again. Sorry, not happening Donald. You screwed us with the Expos, but if you think Habs fans are going to let you steal money from the franchise to prop up garbage US markets, you might as well retire. This is war Fehr. You want progress in the NHL Donald. Here’s a word you can understand. CONTRACTION. Until you grasp that concept, don’t bother asking the Molson family for any more revenue sharing money. It ain’t gonna happen.

  22. Storm Man says:

    With that kind of post sounds like you should have a job on HNIC… Fehr did not take the Expos out of Montreal, Do some reading on the reasons the Expos moved.

  23. TomNickle says:

    You think Bettman will crush Fehr?  LOL.  Fehr got the oldest old boys club in the Sports World to their knees.  He got the most stubborn Commissioner to his knees.  Bettman is in some serious trouble as NHL commissioner and I couldn’t be happier about it.  Fehr is surely a snake, but that appears to be what’s needed to get rid of Bettman, and rest assured that Fehr will last longer.  

    Fehr will get the “Board of Governors” on his side, just you watch.  Fehr will drag Bettman through the mud and he won’t survive it.


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