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December 7, 2012 | 1:00pm ET


Three Strikes and You're Out
 It's time to retire NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr's number.

LOS ANGELES -- Now the plot REALLY thickens. Forget the fiscal cliff, there's far more drama inside the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations than any Congressional spat between Democrats and Republicans. There are more up and downs than in Denzel Washington's latest movie, Flight, that includes a plane crash.

After weeks of little news and less movement towards a deal, this week has everything that a fledging screenwriter wants in a story, but sadly, it's more cruel and unusual punishment to you, the hockey fan that reads this piece.

I know you're over who's right and who's wrong, because at this juncture, they're all wrong.

You've been robbed of the world's greatest game by people on both sides who appear to care little about it. Both the players and owners seem they could care less about the history, the legend and the future of a game that is a vital part of many North American families.

As smart as they may be, the level of naivety by the NHL owners and the NHLPA thinking you will return in the record numbers you did before the last game was played on June 11, 2012 is astounding.

We've stated throughout the entire impasse that the players deserve every penny they get and it was reinforced last week in Chicago. We had the rare opportunity to sit with the Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. After a pretty awesome photo shoot for the magazine, the discussion turned to the CBA.

Without going into specifics, Toews, in no uncertain terms, stated that the players had given enough and were digging their heels in. His argument became even more convincing when it dovetailed into a discussion about his concussion issues. Captain Serious told us that there were lingering effects from his injury up until only a few weeks ago when he visited an Atlanta clinic that essentially figure out the proper way to re-set his brain and put him back on the path to perfect health. To hear his impassioned tone, no one could begrudge him one dollar from a job that is incredibly well paying, but has a finite term with considerable and still unknown long-term health risks.

You can't argue Donald Fehr has injected a feeling of solidarity and empowerment to the NHLPA as he did with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

In an interview I did a decade ago with one of his allies (MLB owners would say co-conspirator), agent Scott Boras stated that he never makes a decision for a client, his role is to provide the most information as possible in order for them to make the best decision.

Has Fehr done likewise for his constituents?

Again, this point is without dispute, despite what the NHL may have tried to tell you of the past few weeks, there's been full disclosure and total transparency throughout between the Executive Director and the rank and file.

There's always a cost to change and this one is disappointing given the personality of the players as a whole. Along with empowerment, Fehr has allowed a sense of entitlement to envelope the finest group of athletes in professional sports. For weeks, they wouldn't budge on the Make-Whole provision, demanding to get paid every dollar they contracted for. That's great, but when there's no labor agreement in place that governs those contracts, you get nothing. The Make-Whole provision never should have been a sticking point, it wasted weeks of valuable negotiating time and the Players' stance probably stems from the early days of Fehr's campaign. They've been misled from the start and as the season hangs in the balance, it's Donald Fehr who needs to retire like a baseball closer who's lost 3-5 MPH off his fastball.

When Fehr arrived, he likely told the players some wonderful MLB bedtime stories and lulled them to sleep. Through dogged determination, he slew the evil baseball owners and set up a no-salary cap system that begat Alex Rodriguez's $252 million contract and Vernon Wells getting $24 million to ride the pine for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this season (obviously Fehr had no influence on team names).

He likely extracted the part of the tale where the 1994 World Series was lost and his stewardship included a steroid era where record breaking players won't be voted to the Hall of Fame, but who wants to get in the way of a great fairy tale, eh? He probably told them that those big deals were forged by labor peace provided by him and not the television revenue that dwarfs what the NHL gets (see Dodgers/$6 billion/Fox Sports) and most importantly, he was way smarter than those owners and could produce the same magic for them.

Ever look at the list of owners he had to battle back in the day? Marge Schott is at the top of the list, so is Carl Pohlad and Tom Werner, the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres owners, respectively, who made the ten worst all time baseball owners list by ESPN. Against those foes, he won big and made his stamp on professional sports with his take-no-prisoners style.

If the NHLPA called over a reference on him, they probably got 100% marks and rightfully so. Fehr even took the magnanimous step to publicly announce (like anyone cared) of not accepting a red cent until the NHLPA had a deal but didn't disclose why the gesture was purely for show. Upon his departure in 2009, MLB dropped an $11 million severance package on him, so he's never been from hunger from Day One as Executive Director of the NHLPA.

But this is 2012. Not 1995. NHL owners are smarter, savvier and have far deeper pockets than any owner Donald Fehr faced during MLB negotiations. They control global media companies, and the concessions in the arenas where his clients play; heck they even own controlling interest the freaking Alberta oil sands.

The pro-Fehr media say that he's tied the owners up in knots; they're clueless on how to get Fehr to see it their way. Reports on Thursday say that the League took the unprecedented step of telling players that his appearance in the room on Thursday would scuttle the deal. I suggest it's just the opposite, I think privately this was the owners perfectly played end game. Fehr underestimated the ability for the owners to walk away from the table; he scrambled to the podium on Thursday ahead of the NHL rejection (via voicemail, ooowee) to misrepresent the status of the negotiations at a crucial point. Though we're nowhere near a fan of Bettman and Daly, they had every right to be infuriated Thursday evening. For as much as the players publicly revile Bettman, I can't fathom they wanted a guy to lead them who uses similar public relations tactics. The hypocrisy on both sides is at an epic level.

On December 5th, Don Fehr's NHL legacy is far closer to Bob Goodenow's than the MLB Don Fehr. He led the players to believe they could outlast and outfox a bigger and better opponent. He asked for trust and yet the only players who've benefited since September 15 are the ones who signed front-loaded free agent deals in July or on the injured list (curiously you've heard next to nothing from those players).

The reason unions were created initially was to protect workers from dangerous and unfair working conditions, protect jobs and be paid a fair wage. Under that definition, the NHLPA should disband and Don Fehr should step away.

Fehr doesn't even have to deal the prospect of losing jobs, the NHL will expand to 32 teams soon after the ink dries on the next deal and jobs have never been threatened.

Working conditions? Charter planes and accommodations at places like The Ritz Carlton, they're good there too. Fair wages? NHL median salaries are in the range of $1.7 million, so no government cheese for the masses.

What SHOULD have happened in August was Don Fehr huddling with the boys in the room and saying, "look, you're going to take a hit here. I will do my best to get you the best deal possible, but I don't want you to miss one paycheck."

Now they've missed four and the reality of a guy like Dustin Brown losing over $3 million in the prime of his career off a championship season is just weeks away. Add to the insanity of a cancelled season is the question of when the sides start anew. The players can't be naive enough to believe that an offer next summer is any better than the one the NHL just took off the table. But hey, here's a $10,000 stipend from Don, so go have a party.

The players should give a Fehr a week to extract the best deal possible from the NHL. If he can't, they should whack him and press forward, they're certainly at the point where they can negotiate the deal without him, and guess what, they don't even owe him a dime based on his representations.

Considering the fact the NHL was ready to talk at the All-Star Game in Ottawa in January, it's been 11 months and Donald Fehr has provided them with nothing more than a tidy $531 million in wages lost. There are 42 unrestricted free agents over 30 years old who played in the NHL last season. If Brett Clark never plays in the NHL again, who makes him whole? If Tom Kostopoulos loses a season and gets beat out by a rookie next season, is Donald Fehr writing the check for the $800,000 he likely would earn this season?

It's fitting that we hang an old baseball analogy on Donald Fehr and his baseball mentality and it goes like this: The Mighty Casey has struck out, who's next in the batting order?

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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