MILTON, Ont. – Donald Fehr’s future with the NHL Players’ Association could be determined as soon as this week.
With the union’s executive board set to meet Tuesday and Wednesday in downtown Toronto, a couple of important issues will be on the table. Chief among them is the presentation of a report from the committee tasked with finding a new executive director—a potentially important step in identifying a successor for Paul Kelly.
Many players would clearly like Fehr to take the job. But the long-time head of the Major League Baseball Players Association remained coy on Monday when asked about his interest in a leadership position with the union.
“There’s going to be a report by the committee (Tuesday) and there’s not going be anything said until after the meetings are over (on Wednesday),” Fehr said during a rare sitdown with reporters.
Since becoming an unpaid advisor for the NHLPA in November, there’s been growing speculation Fehr will end up assuming a larger role. He’s been helping the players draft a new constitution and search for an executive director in the wake of a massive leadership purge that started with Kelly’s firing in August.
With many rumours floating around, the most likely scenario seems to have Fehr being put in a position to groom the union’s next leader—rather than filling the top job himself.
New York Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson had dinner with Fehr and a few other players earlier this year and believes he’s interested in sticking around for a little while.
“Talking to Donald, the couple times I did, he’s at the age where he wants to retire and relax, he’s worked long enough,” said Roloson. “But he wouldn’t mind helping out or trying to mentor a guy to do it. If we get him full-time for a couple of years that would be awesome.
“If we get him to help out to mentor somebody, that’s just as great.”
It was a popular sentiment Monday as more than 60 former and current players participated in the NHLPA’s annual charity golf tournament at RattleSnake Point. Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek gushed about the possibility of Fehr taking on a leadership role and said he’s “keeping his fingers crossed.”
“He’s arguably the best union leader out there,” said Komisarek. “To have him onboard, on our staff and our team, would be great. We’ll see what happens in the next couple days.”
Another item on the executive board’s to-do list this week will be to discuss the new constitution. A proposal has been distributed to the union’s membership but has yet to officially be voted on.
These are important steps in rebuilding the organization—especially with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2011-12 season.
One thing Fehr says he’s learned in his time working with NHL players is that they’re “determined to get it right.”
That statement was backed up by Calgary Flames forward Matt Stajan, who was heavily involved in the union when Kelly was in charge.
“As a group we need someone we can trust,” said Stajan. “Last time we did the (hiring) steps properly and it didn’t work out with Paul. The general sentiment is that we trust this guy so I think it’s a no-brainer.”
The 61-year-old Fehr garnered a reputation as an uncompromising negotiator during his 26 years in charge of the baseball union. He oversaw five labour contracts for the players and was in charge during a seven-plus month strike in 1994-95 that forced the cancellation of the World Series.
Since getting involved with the NHLPA, he’s spent a lot of time immersing himself in the game. Fehr has been spotted at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Germany, the Stanley Cup final in Chicago and the competition committee meeting in Toronto, among other places.
Seemingly every player he’s crossed paths with has come away impressed.
“Its interesting to hear what he has to say,” said Pittsburgh Penguins winger Max Talbot. “I feel like he’s really taken (the job) to heart. He talked to us a month ago in Chicago and he was definitely really confident, a big leader.
“You could tell thathe’s experienced.”
It remains to be seen whether that experience will be put to use when the NHLPA sits down with the league for contract negotiations in 2012.
Fehr says he’s known NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for a couple of decades, but hasn’t spent much time mingling with him in recent months. When it was suggested that the pair will have plenty to talk about in the coming years, Fehr remained typically coy.
“Somebody will, we’ll see. Somebody will.”