NHL Lockout 2012: Donald Fehr Is Here To Win


Hello! My name’s Elena and I’ll be writing for Cardiac Cane a couple times a week. I bring a lot of things to the table: an overworked liver, an intense affection for Eric Staal and a resentment of the lockout. What’s that? Two of those three things are situation normal for hockey fans everywhere? Well, stab me in the face, then.

Anyway, the order of the day is: one thing I see a lot of people saying about this lovely NHL lockout is that Fehr was brought in to stem the river of blood coursing out from the NHLPA. It’s undeniably true that the owners have a certain amount of leverage; they’re by and large billionaires, and they can hold out for quite a bit longer than the less-well-paid members of the NHL. They’ve spent a significant portion of the lockout crying poor, but that doesn’t mean they’re poor by a long shot, and most people following the lockout remotely closely know that. It’s more or less a given that the players will lose some money, and it’s becoming very common to say Fehr was brought in to cauterize an assumed amputation.

But how true is that? I’ll admit I’m not an expert on Donald Fehr, but the man was in charge of the MLBPA for thirteen years. During his tenure, he knocked MLB owners down a peg or two, which in itself is an impressive feat. I live in Chicago, and the Ricketts family might be relatively new owners, but they’re heavyweights in terms of both money and community standing. It takes a pretty tough guy to lead a player’s association through a lockout and broker the best deal in North American major league sports.

Here’s the thing about Fehr: the guy’s only been executive director of the NHLPA for just under two years, but the players are standing strong behind him. No one wants a work stoppage, true, but a lot of well-known players have more to lose than the average fan. Take the Hurricanes’ own Eric Staal: he already lost a year to another lockout, and this year was supposed to be the year he reclaimed his status as a player to be reckoned with. It’s got to sting. Same goes for Cam Ward. And then you have older players, like Alfredsson and Selanne, who may very well not be back if this whole year goes down the toilet.

So, with that in mind – why stand behind Fehr? Because otherwise you’re worried you’ll be subject to being completely cheated? Yeah, maybe. But there are plenty of people who could keep you from being completely cheated. Fehr’s not a “eke out a slightly less harsh blow” guy. He’s the guy you stand behind when you want to make a statement, when you want to say that you’re not backing down and making unjust concessions just to do this all again six or seven years down the line.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when Fehr was voted in as executive director of the NHLPA, the players weren’t just doing it for the hey of it. They were doing it because, even two seasons ago, many of them – if not most of them – understood the kind of reckoning that was coming. Bettman might be a perfectly nice guy to his family, but he’s a particularly nasty kind of businessman, and he’s negotiating on behalf of a bunch of pretty powerful businessmen. You don’t bring a gun to a knifefight if what you’re planning on doing is using it as a bludgeon.

Is that good news for hockey fans? Well, that depends on your definition of good news. Fehr having the players so united and being willing to wait – key word – for the NHL to blink means fans most likely won’t see hockey as soon as we’d like. But at this point, even as a newer fan, I’m embarrassed. Three lockouts in the last 20 years is flat-out embarrassing to the league and its fans. But the reason we’re in another lockout is because the deals brokered before weren’t satisfactory, and so at the earliest opportunity, both sides came back for more. Whatever else you can say about Fehr, he’s good at settling deals. The man held off a hard salary cap in the MLB for over a decade.

So, yeah, we might see a long delay of hockey this year, or another lost season. But I’m willing to lay money on part of Fehr’s purpose as the guy in charge of things this time around is capitalizing on everyone, owners and players alike, being desperate to not do this again. When we get a new CBA, my guess is the owners aren’t going to be so eager to make insulting demands next time.