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Donald Fehr speaks up about NHL’s labor future as problems may lie ahead

Jul 11, 2011, 6:48 PM EDT

Donald Fehr AP

While the NHL is one of two major sports not currently locking out its players, the labor calm that exists for the time being may not be around a year from now. At the end of the 2011-2012 season, the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHLPA will expire and with that comes the worries and fretting that we all have over whether or not both sides will go to war again over salaries.

With things in the NFL and especially in the NBA currently looking ugly and the possibility of games being canceled a distinct possibility, the memories NHL fans have over the lost 2004-2005 season that never happened are fresh. Donald Fehr is the new head of the NHLPA and while many remember him from his years with the Major League Baseball Players Association and his place in infamy for his hand in helping cancel the 1994 World Series thanks to labor problems, how he handles things with the NHLPA will determine whether he’s a villain in just one sport or two.

Sean Fitz-gerald of The National Post in Canada got Fehr’s take on what’s on the horizon for the NHLPA and their dealings with the NHL and how they’ll need to learn from what other sports are failing to do.

On paying attention to CBA talk in the NFL and NBA:
“Of course you pay attention to what’s going on in the other negotiations. There are four sports unions and management negotiations in North America and there are obviously some common themes. Having said that, the economics of all four sports are different; the players are different; the demographics are different, and so you really do have to individualize negotiations.”

Anything surprise you from the other negotiations?
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, the positions of the NFL and the positions of the NBA were telegraphed a long, long time ago, and they’ve held pretty closely to them. And in both of those leagues, they’ve set out to see if they can secure massive concessions from the players, and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Fehr says that no formal talks have begun with commissioner Gary Bettman and that fans shouldn’t be worried about things until there’s something to actually worry about. Apparently he doesn’t know what it feels like to be a fan of the game with a fresh wound that still isn’t totally healed from just six years ago.

One aspect that remains similar in the NFL and NBA with what the NHL will look to do is trying to rein things in a bit with money. Of course, the NHL owners were the ones who pushed hard for the current system and went so far as to give up a full season of games to get it put in place. With the sorts of contracts we’ve seen issued by teams to players in order to get around the limits of the CBA, it’s believed the NHL will look to close all those loopholes out and eliminate the extreme long term deals to help circumvent the cap. Larry Brooks of the New York Post believes as much will happen.

Next time, the NHL is going to introduce the ultimate one-size-fits-all cap. Percentage of the gross will be dramatically reduced. The midpoint will essentially become the cap, with the ceiling and floor separated by perhaps $4M-$6M. Deviations of salary within a contract will be kept to a minimum. The cap charge will be defined by the average of the three-to-five highest salaried seasons. Contracts will be kept to a minimum of five-to-seven years.

The players through all this, of course, are going with the limits that were set before them and they’ve been able to take advantage of the owners’ shortsightedness. It’s hard to get angry at the players for taking advantage of a system that was thrown down before them as a cure-all for the salary madness that was taking over the league. It’s not as if a player isn’t going to take an offer that might be worth more than their value on the whole may be for. You take as much as you’re offered and that’s that.

Of course, should things turn ugly as the year wears on and the deadline to get a new CBA approaches, that story line won’t be what’s told and things will always turn into a players vs. owners battle. This time around, everyone could use a lesson or two in financial education.

  1. trbowman - Jul 11, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    Fehr is a snake in the grass.

    • tommytd - Jul 11, 2011 at 9:09 PM

      So is Bettman…they’re made for each other! Should be nasty…

  2. sknut - Jul 11, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    how stupid could Bettman be to risk labor issues again, I would think they have learned and won’t risk it. Or at least I hope they did.

  3. tommytd - Jul 12, 2011 at 6:17 AM

    Let’s see…another lockout coming on the heels of a brand new 10 year TV deal with Comcast! Sounds about par for the course for Bettman and the NHL. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it happen.

  4. comeonnowguys - Jul 12, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    I get the sinking feeling another full season will be lost.

    Remember, this is the guy behind the MLB strike and the guy that fought tooth and nail against MLB testing for steroids. I think he may have had his conscience and morals surgically removed.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he took the NHLPA job in part because he saw a commissioner he could bat around like a rhythm bag.

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