Saturday, December 18, 2010

Game On: Fehr In as NHLPA Head; Gets Overwhelming Support Was Looking For

The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) announced today that "the full membership of the NHLPA has voted overwhelmingly to appoint Don Fehr as the new NHLPA Executive Director". To view the NHLPA's press release click here.

The word "overwhelmingly" was chosen for a reason. On September 13, Offside broke a story that before Fehr agreed to step in as head of the NHLPA, the players would need to "overwhelmingly vote" to accept his appointment. Given the recent well documented failures of the NHLPA, this was a wise choice.

Fehr ran the MLB player union for 27 years before he stepped down in 2009. He was instrumental in making the union the most powerful in sports, and masterfully guided the players through the collusion grievances in the 80s (which resulted in an award of $280M to players) and the 1994-1995 strike. He also guided the players through CBA negotiations in 2002 and 2006, the first negotiations since 1970 that were achieved without a work stoppage.

As a young lawyer, Fehr assisted the MLBPA in the landmark Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally arbitration case. In 1977, Marvin Miller, head of the union, hired Fehr as general counsel to the MLBA.

In December 1985, Fehr was voted executive director of the MLBPA after having served as acting director since December 9, 1983. Fehr successfully challenged the owners' collusion, leading to the owners paying $280 million in damages to the players. He was instrumental in implementing the rejection of future admissions into the MLBPA by replacement players who planned to fill in during the strike of 1995. He is known for his fierce negotiating skills, and by many accounts, is smartest guy in the room.

On June 22, 2009, Fehr stepped down from the MLBPA executive director position. Shortly after leaving his position as Executive Director of the MLBPA, Fehr took up a position as an advisor to the NHLPA.

The MLBPA stands in stark contrast to the NHLPA. While the MLBPA enjoyed very strong leadership and has flourished, the NHLPA through the years has been fraught with corruption, scandal, controversy and mismanagement. Today, the PA is essentially rudderless.

(To read the best account of the history of the NHLPA, read Money Players by Bruce Dowbiggin. This book is fascinating and chronicles the problems faced by the NHLPA over the years. Makes Christmas dinner at my house look like a walk in the park).

Given the way the NHL has quite convincingly handled the Union, Fehr is a welcome addition for the players. If Fehr can accomplish half of what he did with the MLBPA, the players will be the better for it. Also expect to see a clear succession plan when he decides to leave. This will be important to Fehr as well.

I'm sure it's not relevant, but when I spellchecked "Fehr", the suggested correction was "fear". Not sure what that means.

Game on.

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