September 12, 2012; New York, NY, USA; NHLPA executive director Don Fehr (right) flanked by Vancouver Canucks player Manny Malhotra (to his left) and Winnipeg Jets player Ron Hainsey (to his right) during a press conference at the 2012 NHLPA summer player meetings at the Marriott Marquis. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NHL LOCKOUT: Day 98 – Fehr speaks his mind.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the player’s union(and current social pariah among hockey fans) joined 590 The Fan in Toronto with Jeff Blair to discuss where the lockout is going. Fehr offered up a candid opinion on the status of the union, the players’ mind set, and the possibility of a doomed season.

Fehr was asked about the give and take process of the current CBA talks. Granted, there has been no progress since December 13th, when the league decided to scuttle what appeared to be a working deal.  That mishap was caused by owners telling players that having Fehr in the room was a “deal breaker”. “This started out with the owners making demands for enormous salary concessions off of the concessions last time the players gave,” offered Fehr, “plus record revenues, and they didn’t get to their 50-50 proposal which they supposedly is what they  wanted all along, until the month into the lockout. They’ve given us lots of  take-it-or-leave-its, and deadline negotiations and so on. And they know that on  the substance, we’re not very close apart. When they say they’ve got nothing  left to give, I would just ask you, ‘What exactly have they given?’ … All the  giving here has been done by the players. In terms of a deadline, it’s only the  the NHL that has been setting deadlines.”

Fehr was later posed the question would the current NHL labor troble have any rippling effect in other professional sports leagues.  Here Fehr was direct and blunt. “Absolutely not. My obligation as executive director of this union is to  negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with management that the players are  prepared to endorse and to ratify. Whether that has any impacts or implications  for anybody else in any other industry is for them to worry about. It’s got  nothing to do with me.”

The discussion did move towards the ‘disclaimer of intrest’.  Those three little words that will either bring the owners to the table, or really shut down the season. Hey owners, this one is ALL ON YOU! You pushed to marginalize Fehr, you wanted him out of the negotiations, and you did everything you could to have him branded a ‘deal breaker’ to the fan base and the media. For once, you PR plan actually worked. Problem for you is, it REALLY worked. If this was a trial held in a court of law, the judge would have declared a mis-trial by now.

The league so poisoned the negotiations, you gave the players only two serious choices.  One, capitulate. Have them agree to your current list of demands knowing that in the next CBA, you’ll be asking for more money to correct another series of blunders. (My guess would be the inclusion of hockey clubs in San Juan and Mexico City.) The other, remove Fehr(and the union) from the talks and see your worst labor nightmare brought to life. Well played NHL.

“Should the players decide that they don’t want to be a union, there won’t be a  union.” said Fehr.  “That’ll sort of be the end of that, and we’ll be living in a different  world. The owners will have to comply with the anti-trust laws, the individual  players will have whatever rights they have. If the players’ association continues, it would continue as a trade association. It would not be  representing the players.”

The players have not revealed as of yet the actual vote. (This tells me the players are willing to press the big red button, but are damn scared to do it.) What would the NHLPA’s (or what would become the NHLTU)  role be if the players pushed this forward.  Fehr just simply spelled it out. “All I can tell you is that, should that take place, the NHLPA will not be a  union and will not be entitled to represent the players in negotiations.”

The conversation also addressed the ‘damage to the brand’ issue. With 50.8% of the regular season gone, and 17.7% of all hockey games in the last eight seasons cancelled due to labor issues, the legacy of the NHL is far from certain.  Did Fehr believe that the league was spiraling down due to its own greed, poor judgement, and lack of flexibility?

Fehr went on the attack. “I don’t know what kind of adjective you would you apply to it, but certainly,  when you’re not selling your product, you can’t have a positive result after  that. I will only tell you that, from management’s standpoint, Gary has said  publicly that he should’ve locked out the whole season in ’94 and took great  pride in the fact that there was no loss of revenue as between the year before  and the year subsequent to the ’04-’05 lockout. You can draw your own  conclusions from that.”

I’m still a little surprised that so many people hate Fehr. When he was hired, people knew he had a history of standing up to ownership. That’s why the players hired him. They didn’t want to be railroaded into a CBA that would only get worse after every round.  The players wanted him as their voice. Some of you may not like it,  but that’s the state of things. The owners weren’t happy, and they did everything they could to undermine the negotiations with the express intent to demonize Fehr.  Looking at a lot of comments in the blogosphere, they succeeded.

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