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Screen Shots: The Futures of Price, Fehr and Detroit Red Wings

Lots of changes around the NHL over the past few days, and Adam Proteau takes a look at Carey Price, Donald Fehr and what's next for the Detroit Red Wings.
Carey Price

It’s time for another Screen Shots column. Here, as always, we break down a few different hockey topics into smaller bytes. You probably know that by now, so let’s put aside any further introduction, and get right down to business.

– The NHL Players’ Association announced Friday it would begin the process of finding a future replacement for current executive director Donald Fehr. The players’ seven-man executive board made the announcement in the wake of revelations about the sexual assault of former NHL player Kyle Beach, although, to be clear, an independent investigation of Beach’s plight found no evidence of any wrongdoing by Fehr or union officials.

That said, there are already hockey power brokers who are prepared to throw their hat in the ring to replace Fehr. Whether it’s current player agents, or union officials themselves – for instance, current NHLPA Special Assistant to Fehr, former NHL defenseman Matthieu Schneider, is believed to be interested in the job – there will be much jockeying for position in the race to take the union’s reins.

But the key duty of Fehr’s replacement is not taking a more adversarial stance against NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the team owners who employ him – although that may be the case down the road. As it stands, the union has virtually no leverage when it comes to improving the current collective bargaining agreement, which runs through the league’s 2025-26 season. No, the most important job for the new NHLPA executive director is much less ambitious: the union needs to simply bolster the morale of the union members, and find ways to get them more connected to their labor situation.

Here’s an example of the clear malaise amongst players and the CBA: on a recent phone conference call between Fehr and the members, a source said approximately only 80 players participated. That’s 80 players out of 750 players. That’s barely 10 percent. That’s dreadful.

The players’ reluctance to step up and be informed by their union is probably music to the ears of Bettman and the owners, but it does nothing for the players’ plight right now, nor the future of young players coming into the league. Fehr may wind up hanging around until after the 2024 World Cup of Hockey, but whoever takes over for him needs to be a bridge-builder amongst players, and a motivational force for them. That’s the foundation of the gig.

News Saturday that the Detroit Red Wings would not be bringing back head coach Jeff Blashill was more than justified, and, frankly, long past-due. The Wings were an absolute nightmare more often than not this season, and although that was in part a result of their abysmal goaltending and uneven roster, there’s no question Blashill’s time steering the team had to end. In six seasons behind Detroit’s bench, Blashill had no structural answers for what ailed the Wings. There is no celebrating his firing, but the reality is many coaches around the league had far less of a landing strip for success before they were fired; it’s stunning in some ways Blashill lasted as long as he did without ever making the playoffs.

Detroit head honcho Steve Yzerman – who left Tampa Bay to take the Wings’ GM job in 2019 – now has to put his management imprint on the team by installing his own choice to be Blashill’s replacement. It’s likely Yzerman waits until the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs to name a new head coach, so that he has a full complement of potential talent that would include veteran coaches dismissed after the post-season.

But don’t expect Yzerman to go with a well-known personality. When Yzerman hired Jon Cooper as the Lightning’s head coach in 2013, Cooper was an unknown quantity to many. Since then, he’s proven to be one of the best coaches in the game. Yzerman may again choose someone not on the mainstream radar, and if he has half the success with Blashill’s replacement as he had with Cooper, Red Wings fans will be ecstatic.

– Montreal Canadiens star goalie Carey Price said this weekend that he wasn’t certain he’d be back next season. If it turns out he’s played his final NHL game, here’s a salute to him as a competitor, a humanitarian, and an admirable example of what can happen thi when players are courageous enough to admit they need help and enter into the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program.

Young players can look to Price’s honesty and know they’ll be given support from the league and union in any battles concerning physical and mental health. If Price is back to play again, that’s great; if not, he’s earned a terrific legacy as a Habs superstar, and one of the top netminders in recent memory. All the best to him and his family.

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