Fehr says NHL, union were 'very close' to deal
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Donald Fehr delivered a speech to Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) in Toronto on Saturday afternoon, yet it was clear its message was intended for the ears of the NHL owners.
Trust your membership. Stay focused and patient. Keep the lines of communication open to all.
And most importantly, understand what rights you won as hockey players because of athletes similar to yourself taking on Major League Baseball decades ago.
It was the executive director of the NHLPA's way of telling NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the 30 owners that his group wasn’t intimidated by Thursday’s colossal fiasco in New York City when CBA talks broke down.
And that it won’t be pressured into making a deal its membership isn’t comfortable with.
Fehr pointed out what is different about hockey players’ jobs versus auto workers': They can’t be outsourced.
“We can't move the plant to Bangladesh,” Fehr said, reiterating that’s why you have to be prepared for a long process of negotiating at home.
What was fascinating about the speech, which lasted less than 25 minutes, was how Fehr weaved his own career up the ladder in sports union representation from baseball to hockey and what he learned from athletes in the process.
He spoke glowingly of his mentor, Marvin Miller, and placed into larger context how baseball players' plight in battling restrictive work laws and a lack of free agency successfully laid the ground work for all professional athletes to follow.
And how those same issues were present during the 84-day NHL lockout.
“What I am witnessing again, this time around, is that whatever else the professional athletes do, they can be and are a reminder to everyone else of what it takes in a difficult struggle,” Fehr said.
“If indeed the 750 or so players that I have the privilege to represent can help remind everybody of that, then that will be an important side benefit to what is otherwise a very difficult and unpleasant period.”
Several players, most notably Ron Hainsey, came out of the New York meetings saying the league urged them to strike a deal without Fehr present in the talks, a divide-and-conquer tactic the players say has been present throughout to undermine Fehr.
Hainsey, Sidney Crosby and others said that whatever deal is finalized, Fehr will be the one sitting at the table.
“I learned a long, long time ago, again from Marvin Miller, that in the end, if you really don’t have any idea what to recommend, or none of the choices are good or none of the options appear tremendously better than the others, what you do is you trust your membership,” Fehr said.
“Because they’ll do what the right thing to do is. All you have to do is make sure they know what the issues are and involve them enough so they understand the context.”
He jokingly asked the CAW for help.
“If anyone has a brilliant idea on how to solve the lockout, don’t keep it to yourself,” Fehr quipped.
In a separate media scrum following his speech, Fehr said that contrary to Bettman’s assertion, he feels the two sides “are very close” on a deal. He also emphasized that it was the league which has issued threats, walked out of talks, or simply ended discussions -- not the players.
Asked what is the next step since the NHL pulled its offer from the table, Fehr calmly replied, “You keep negotiating.” E-mail Tim Panaccio at email@example.com