Donald Fehr predicting another lockout and why it will happen.


Feb 18, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr (left) , IHHF president Rene Fasel (middle) and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (right) pose for a photo a press conference during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Last week,  NHLPA’s head Donald Fehr publicly claimed that the path to the next NHL lockout was already being paved. While the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement doesn’t expire until the 2021-22 season, Fehr predicts another lockout. There were several issues that the players union worry about. Concussion protocols and independent second medical opinions were the reasons that were highlighted in his argument. For a man who usually quiet outside the negotiating table, his rhetoric was rather confrontational.

NHL commissioner Bill Daly was hardly thrilled to hear this. It was Daly who had reached across the aisle to broker a satisfactory compromise with Fehr during the last lockout.  Fehr sat down with TVA’s Renaud Lavoie and responded with his own level of ire. “It’s a fairly naive and uneducated view of the situation, particularly as it relates to this league’s collective bargaining history and the reasons why we have endured work stoppages in the past,” said an exasperated Daly. “Don’s musings are also entirely inconsistent with his own collective bargaining history, which is highlighted by his own precipitation of repeated work stoppages and unprecedented labor strife in an ‘uncapped’ sports league.”

So, are there any other reasons that could inspire Fehr to open up with his guns this early in to the current CBA? My guess is Fehr and the players’ union as a whole is looking at the disturbing events over in Russia.

The Russian ruble is in free-fall. The currency’s decline can be blamed on dropping oil prices, and economic sanctions levied against Russia for their military engagements in the Ukraine. In the last few months, the ruble has lost half its value to the US dollar and the EU Euro ( The exchange rate was 33:1 for the ruble at the start of the Olympics, it’s 54:1 now). KHL teams have had to cut players salaries drastically (by 50% or more), and some coaches haven’t received a paycheck all season. It’s like watching the end of the old Soviet Union all over again.

The falling ruble has called in to question the very survival of KHL teams. While the league is likely to survive the current economic disaster (thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s love of ice hockey and being a strong proponent of the league), several teams are on the verge of collapse.  Out of the current KHL’s current roster of twenty-eight squads, twenty-two of them are based in Russia. Of those Russian squads, three of them (one of them being a Moscovite team) could fold at the end of the year. Several others (including foreign teams like the Finnish based Jokerit (former home of 2011 Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas)) could walk away from the KHL due to current economic crisis.

So, why would this so irk the players’ union? With the partial collapse of the KHL, there would be an influx of Russian players who would be willing to work for significantly less money.  While the NHL superstars would still see their large salaries, the players near the bottom would suddenly be playing for their very careers. Owners would quickly take the opportunity to replace players that are making one-to-two million and replace them with an equivalent quality player for under a million. (Can any of you Boston Bruins fans think of an owner that would gladly kick some players to the curb in order to save a few bucks?)

With the NHL looking (after denying it multiple times) to add two more teams in the next few years, some of those Russian players would be welcome.  The rest of those players could easily capsize the boat of the NHL’s labor pool. The possible flooding of the market of cheap foreign labor is a cause for serious distress among the league’s players. The players would quickly turn to Fehr, and the owners would likely dig in. During the last lockout the players union had to give up half a season in 2012-13 to get the owners to agree to terms. They lost the entire 2004-05 season to the one before that.

So, now it comes down to what happens in the next two seasons. If the ruble forces a mass exodus from the Russian hockey league, then this will be one more guaranteed reason that the NHL and the players’ union will be going to war again over the CBA.