Three Strikes and You're Out
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
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
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
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
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
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?