Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fehr Better Or For Worse: Next Steps & Highlights of Conference Call

“Before the vote, I think everyone knew that he was our guy. There was no one with his expertise, and his knowledge, and his experience as an executive director. He’s done great things for baseball. And the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of turnover at the NHLPA, and I think there’s no better person to go in there and sort of settle the house down."
On Saturday, Donald Fehr held a telephone conference call following his appointment as executive director of the NHLPA. I attended this call, and below are the highlights, including his comments on requiring more power before signing on, the possibility of a work stoppage, his immediate to do list and succession plans.

As for the future, don’t expect to see a work stoppage. The fundamental issue of cost containment was addressed during the 2005 lockout by way of the salary cap. Moving forward, look for tweaks to the CBA and no major overhauls.

Ultimately, Fehr will seek a recalibration the NHLPA’s relationship with the NHL, and his appointment is a step in the right direction as it immediately elevates the credibility of the union. Other issues include restructuring the escrow provisions in the CBA and increasing the union's share of the revenue. Player safety may also get some air time.

As well, the NHLPA may seek to address Section 26.10(d) of the CBA, which provides that there “shall be no limitation of time barring the investigation of a Circumvention by the Commissioner”. Essentially, this means that the NHL can challenge any contract at any time even if the NHL approved and registered that contract. This provision is far too broad in its application. As you may recall in the Kovalchuk case, the NHL used this provision as leverage to force the NHLPA to agree to amendments to the CBA as to the way the salary cap hit is calculated on long term contracts. The NHLPA may propose that this provision be amended to allow for investigations only under limited circumstances.

The NHLPA may also propose that the CBA set out specific circumvention rules governing long term contracts. This may build on the rules agreed upon in September.

Here are the highlights from the conference call:

Wanted More Power

If the constitution was not amended to grant Fehr more authority, then it would have been "vastly more difficult" for him to sign on for the head job.

Fehr noted that the amended constitution made him akin to a "prime minister" - provided he has, and continues to have, the “majority support” of the players.

To Stop or Not To Stop

Fehr does not "anticipate a work stoppage" but he “won’t predict what will happen during negotiations”.

Fehr will educate the player membership as to what the issues are, what's important about them and what "changes" to propose

When asked if players are satisfied with current CBA structure, Fehr responded that several issues warrant examination.

To Do List

Fehr said there are a "whole lot of things" to look at.

He needs to "acquire a detailed working knowledge of the way the CBA works both on global scale and how affects individual players".

He wants to become more familiar with the "current revenue sharing system and the way the economics of this industry work".

So short term, Fehr wants to understand how the CBA, revenue sharing and the economics of the game work.

Fehr also noted that many “senior members” of the union have been lost and they will need to rebuild the staff. Changes will become "apparent over next couple of weeks" (after the call it was announced that NHLPA general counsel Matt Nussbaum was leaving for the MLBPA).

Succession Plan

Fehr said he “will be 64” when the CBA expires, the “time horizon is finite" and it’s "pretty unlikely I'm gonna be here for 10 to 15 years".

Fehr talked to players about "the importance of a smooth transition to another director...whenever that takes place".

Fehr said “it certainly will be my desire, if the players want me at the time, to make a recommendation on someone. Having said that, that choice will remain with the players”.

If he identifies someone who can take over, he will note that person "with more than a passing interest".

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