Don Fehr sees strength in numbers.
As the boss of the NHL Players’ Association kicks off discussions with the league on a new collective bargaining agreement Friday, he’ll do so in close consultation with a large group of players. The union assembled a 31-man committee to assist with negotiations and left the caveat that more can be added as the process goes along.
“Having a wider group makes sure you get much more of a diverse set of views and a diverse set of discussion,” Fehr explained this week in an interview. “It also allows for much easier contact and communication to the membership as a whole.”
It’s one of the most obvious changes Fehr has made since becoming executive director in 2010. The union used a seven-player committee during the last round of labour negotiations under former boss Bob Goodenow.
Fehr expects to have a different mix of players on hand for each negotiation session, with less than 10 expected to accompany him to the NHL offices in New York for the start of CBA talks on Friday. However, the larger group will stay in close contact throughout the summer by exchanging emails and participating in conference calls.
The negotiating committee was clearly assembled with the differing viewpoints of the 700-plus members in mind. As Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider put it: “It has different pay grades, different roles on the teams, different positions, young guys and old guys.”
“I think it’s great everyone has a voice,” said Schneider, who at 26 is one of the younger players involved. “It’s not just the superstars who are looking out for themselves or it’s not just the older guys or the younger guys or the role players. It’s everyone and we’re all coming together and sharing ideas.
“I think we’ll find a common bond and a common voice in this.”
It is Fehr’s hope that the bargaining sessions will feature strong attendance from players—and that won’t be limited to the 31 members on the negotiating committee. He wants NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to have to look across the table to the athletes who will be affected by whatever proposals are being discussed.
The league has so far refrained from saying much about its approach to talks and hasn’t publicly unveiled the members of its negotiating team.
The NHLPA group features players from 19 different NHL teams, five countries and those at various stages of their careers. Twelve are set to become unrestricted free agents on Sunday, while Islanders forward John Tavares has just completed his entry-level deal.
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Steve Montador. “I think it’s just a great representation from players from all teams, from all backgrounds and from all home countries. That’s important because this is a very diverse group of very selective elite athletes—a lot of varying opinions.”
Virtually the entire negotiating committee attended three days of NHLPA meetings in Chicago earlier this week to discuss the important issues. Fehr came away impressed by the group.
“The guys are going to be great and they’re dedicated to the job,” he said.