He was initially brought in a couple of years ago by the player’s union to right the ship so to speak. Since Bob Goodenow resigned following the signing of the last CBA in 2005, the NHLPA handed over the reins to Ted Saskin and then Paul Kelly, both of whom were shown the door for reasons I won’t get into right now.
Enter Donald Fehr: a masterful negotiator who left his mark on Major League Baseball. Depending on which side you look at, Fehr was either a genius for adamantly refusing a salary cap in baseball (and winning on such a stand) or he’s vilified for helping ruin the game of baseball. Yes, the players got what they wanted following the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series. Maybe it was worth it to the most of the players but the price the game of baseball had to pay for the Fehr-led strike was monumental. It took years for the game as a whole to repair the damages left from the strike and in some cases, there are markets still affected by it eighteen years later.
For all the positives that are said about Donald Fehr, I’m sure they are accurate. But weeks after Fehr was hired by the NHLPA, I do remember saying, albeit an uneducated take, that the new union leader would be better than Goodenow because, after all, after a canceled season, it can only better. It was proven just how uneducated what I said truly was.
After this week’s reason to be hopeful ended with an epic implosion yesterday, it’s easy to blame NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. In fact, I do blame him for much of this mess. But that doesn’t leave Donald Fehr off the hook.
This week, the NHL put forth a proposal for a new deal that included $300 million towards the make-whole arrangement. $300 million? While that doesn’t cover every player dollar-for-dollar, the fact that the league, as hard-headed as they’ve been, rose to such a number from their previous total, $211 million, it makes you wonder why Fehr and the players just couldn’t sign the deal and get to playing hockey, what everyone involved in the process apparently wants. I guess there was a back story to that $300 million that I missed.
Fehr’s motives to wait for the league to up their offer may be gutsy but they’re not altogether practical. Considering how little Bettman and the owners have been willing to accommodate the union thus far, to increase their make-whole offer by $89 million is a tactic unlike them. Yet they did it and for some reason, Fehr still wasn’t satisfied.
It was like that Simpsons episode where Marge was hosting a dinner party and the only job she had Homer do was to get dressed – and he couldn’t do that. Yes, I just compared to Donald Fehr to Homer Simpson.
But that’s not to say the union are the only ones at fault here. They put forth a proposal to the league and it was quickly rejected. To think that another season could be lost all because neither side is willing to adjust the specifics of whatever proposal they deal with and treat any of them as an all-or-nothing deal is simply asking for trouble.
Over the weekend, optimism was running high when, of the owners to be involved in this week’s meetings was Pittsburgh’s Ron Birkle. The Pens’ owner not only has the reputation to be a dealmaker but he is a player-friendly owner. How can the union ask for anything more? Either way, it didn’t work out because Donald Fehr was somehow able to infuriate the man to the point where he left the meetings altogether. What was said or done exactly, I don’t know but to have such a drastic end result makes you wonder just how dire the situation had turned.
I really cannot expect anything from either side and I’d probably be wise in that sense. In the risk of sounding like a broken record, I don’t even care which side did what and who stabbed who in the back or whatever else.
Entering this past summer, any logical-thinking person would take the responsibility to get a deal done since the events of 2004-05 cannot under any circumstances be repeated. I guess Donald Fehr, Gary Bettman and everyone else involved from both sides missed the memo.
That is really unfortunate. Just imagine what could have been done had they not missed it.
Photo: Courtesy of Chris Young/Canadian Press