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Monday, September 13, 2010

NHLPA/Don Fehr Update

On Saturday, the NHLPA executive committee voted to accept the recommendation of the executive director search committee, meaning that Don Fehr is one step closer to becoming the executive director of the NHLPA. The next step is to submit Fehr’s nomination to the entire bargaining unit for a vote. The NHLPA is expecting to have the final vote tally by the end of October.

While this certainly is an important step, and it is widely expected that Fehr will have the necessary vote total to assume the executive director position, the “nay” vote total will also be significant. As I discussed in my prior post, cohesion within the bargaining unit is critical to the effectiveness of Fehr and ultimately, the success of the NHLPA. I am hopeful that the players’ vote will result in a mandate for Fehr. With such a mandate, he will be far more effective in his efforts to rebuild the NHLPA.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The NHLPA – Headless Horsemen

Yesterday, James O’Brien of ProHockeyTalk reported that the NHLPA representatives must vote for or against Donald Fehr by September 11, 2010. I am shocked that the NHLPA player reps have taken this long to put it to vote, and I am even more shocked that Fehr’s approval is seemingly in question. According to Jim Kelly of, some of the NHLPA reps, including Robyn Regehr of the Calgary Flames, have concerns over the compensation package that Fehr has allegedly requested, and these concerns have delayed the voting process.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post first outlined Fehr’s requests in a September 2, 2010 article. Brooks reported that Fehr’s requests included the following:

· A salary of $3M per year to run through completion of collective bargaining after the current CBA expires following the 2011-2012 season.
· Salary of $1.5M for the remainder of 2010.
· Ability to retain his brother Steve Fehr as outside counsel for the NHLPA.
· Autonomy relating to all personnel decisions within the NHLPA

Given that Larry Brooks has his finger on the pulse of the NHLPA, and that there have been no denials of the content of the article from either Fehr or the NHLPA, I will assume that Brooks’ report is accurate. Fehr’s requests are more than fair, and I cannot fathom why any NHLPA rep would have qualms with any of them.

Fehr has been working as an unpaid advisor to the NHLPA since November of 2009, following the ouster of Paul Kelly as executive director in August of 2009. Kelly was forced out in an internal power struggle less than 2 years after assuming the position. Kelly had replaced Ted Saskin, who had been elected under a cloud of suspicion in 2005, and was ultimately fired after it was alleged that he improperly accessed the email accounts of players who had challenged his hiring. Saskin had taken the helm from Bob Goodenow in the wake of the disastrous CBA negotiations that resulted in the 2004-2005 lockout.

The NHLPA has been a rudderless ship since Bob Goodenow resigned in 2005, and in my opinion, the only person that can right the NHLPA is Don Fehr.

Fehr was the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association for 27 years before he stepped down in 2009. Fehr was instrumental in making the MLBPA the most powerful union in sports. He guided the players through the collusion grievances of the late 1980’s (which resulted in an award of $280M to players) and the 1994-1995 strike. He also guided the players through CBA negotiations in 2002 and 2006, the first negotiations since 1970 that were achieved without a work stoppage.

More importantly, however, he built a union that was in touch with its members. He brought cohesion to the membership, and this cohesion enabled the MLBPA’s to successfully navigate their labor negotiations with MLB. Without the support of its members (support which Fehr and his protégées fostered), the MLBPA would not have fared as well as it did.

Fehr left the MLBPA in more than capable hands. This exemplifies another one of his skills; the ability to find, train and keep talented staff members that share his vision. The new MLBPA executive director, Michael Weiner, has been with the MLBPA since 1988. Weiner is thought of as one of the brightest minds in the industry. Most of the other labor lawyers (and staff) at the MLBPA have been there for years, and are extremely talented, dedicated and loyal. This continuity has been critical to the success of the MLBPA.

The NHLPA has never had this kind of continuity. Its membership has never been as cohesive as the MLBPA’s, and its staff has never been as stable as the MLBPA’s. The current CBA, which is almost unconscionable from the players’ perspective, is a product of the NHLPA’s sustained instability, which has been exacerbated by the revolving door at the NHLPA’s offices.

It should be clear to the membership of the NHLPA that Fehr is not in this for the money. Fehr never took a salary of more than $1M during his tenure at the MLBPA, while other union leaders such as Billy Hunter (NBAPA) and Gene Upshaw (NFLPA), and even Ted Saskin, were making in excess of $2M. Fehr certainly earned a salary equal to or in excess of his peers, but he never took it. It should also be clear to the membership of the NHLPA that Fehr’s success was earned, not serendipitous, which means it can be recreated.

Personally, I do not think that Fehr’s request for $3M is representative of any financial desire or vanity. He has made his money. Rather, I think he believes that it is the only mechanism to ensure continuity at the NHLPA. With a higher salary (which is contractually guaranteed), the less likely he will be subject to the midnight coups that have felled some of his predecessors. With autonomy related to personnel decisions, he can select bright and dedicated staff members that share his vision and can continue the NHLPA’s mission well after he’s gone, much like he did at the MLBPA. With respect to his brother, Steve Fehr is an accomplished labor lawyer in his own right, and will be an asset as outside counsel. Continuity and cohesion will be imperative as the NHLPA prepares for the next round of CBA negotiations following the 2011-2012 season.

Don Fehr’s legacy is already cemented as a result of his leadership of the MLBPA. He has chosen to undertake an enormous (and perhaps thankless) task in attempting to resuscitate the NHLPA because he believes it’s the right thing to do for its membership, and because he believes (rightly) that he is the man for the job. Don Fehr does not need the executive director position at the NHLPA, the executive director position at the NHLPA needs Don Fehr. The membership should vote accordingly. The future of the NHLPA and its membership is at stake.