It was being discussed a bit yesterday and for the last few months, but today the NHL Players Association put all the speculation to an end and made it official. The players union today overwhelmingly elected former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association Donald Fehr to be the new executive director of the NHLPA.
For the players union this is a very big deal. The NHLPA has famously been a disorganized and self-destructive organization. They’ve gone through leaders of late who have either been malicious towards its members (like Alan Eagleson) or have chewed up representatives on their own for one reason or another (like Bob Goodenow, Ted Saskin, and Paul Kelly). There have been talks of player coups that lead to the dismissal of Paul Kelly and disarray was the standard operating procedure for the union.
With Fehr in charge now, those days are seemingly over. Fehr is a tough character and one who’s most infamously remembered for being on one side of the aisle when Major League Baseball canceled half of the 1994 season when the owners locked out their players leading to there not being a World Series that year. Luckily for Fehr, the NHL has already seen their lowest moment in labor disruption when when the owners locked out the players for the entirety of the 2004-2005 season. There’s no real way for Fehr to do things any worse than what’s already been done.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released the following statement regarding Fehr’s election:
“We are pleased that the leadership position at the Players’ Association has been filled, and we look forward to working with Don in his new role.”
Standard reply but not the wordy one we normally get from Bettman. We’re pretty sure that he knows this is a bold step for the NHLPA and that labor negotiations in 2012 aren’t going to be fun.
The stability that Fehr will provide the NHLPA is sorely needed and with labor talks due to come up after the 2011-2012 season, the NHLPA is in desperate need of getting their own house in order especially after getting hammered by the NHL in concessions to end the 04-05 lockout.
For the NHL, going up against an emboldened players union may not be something they’re ready for as they’ve been able to take advantage of the splintered leadership to get what they’ve wanted in the past. The NHLPA isn’t about to be the pushover they’ve been in the past and that’s something fans aren’t exactly all that excited to hear.
Fans are still sore and shell shocked over what happened just six years ago and that’s something that has to stick in the minds of both sides knowing full well that a labor war again so soon after killing an entire season is virtually unacceptable. Smacking the fans around twice in less than ten years is no way to win an overall battle, it’s more like the acting like the WOPR in the movie “War Games” where mutually assured destruction is the only endgame but only way to win is to not even play it out like that.
A stronger players union is better overall for the NHL and let’s face it, there’s still a lot of problems with that side of the game, Fehr’s the best guy they could ask for and considering how well Major League Baseball ended up for having him there, there’s hope that he can help do the same for the NHL and NHLPA. As with anything regarding labor stuff, we’re cautiously optimistic but ready to get our noses shoved in it at any time.