Blount: Fehr gives union edge, so lockout could be lengthy

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 18, 2012 - 11:13 AM

The NHLPA finally has an experienced, brilliant and fearless negotiator in Donald Fehr at its helm, one who understands both his constituents and his adversary. That's good news for the players.

When Devin Setoguchi was asked Monday about the solidarity among the NHL's locked-out players, he cast a glance behind him. "You can tell even from the skates out here,'' the Wild winger said, as about 40 players scrimmaged on a rink at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. "We've got guys from 10 or 12 different teams. It's the same thing with the union. Everyone's in it together.''

That's due largely to the leadership of Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association. And it's the biggest reason why Setoguchi and his brethren could be skating at rec centers through Thanksgiving, Christmas and Groundhog Day. The NHLPA finally has an experienced, brilliant and fearless negotiator at its helm, one who understands both his constituents and his adversary. That's good news for the players and potentially very bad news for those who just want the puck to drop.

On Day 2 of the lockout, several Wild players practiced with fellow NHLers who make their offseason homes in Minnesota. From Setoguchi to Paul Martin to Mikko Koivu, they expressed the same sentiment, often in the same words.

They want to play. They also want a fair contract, and they feel confident in Fehr's ability to secure one. That unity, cultivated by Fehr's openness and clarity of purpose, gives the players a far stronger hand than they've had in past labor negotiations. They believe patience will pay off, which means the rest of us should be prepared to be patient, too.

"[Fehr has] been there before, and he knows what he's doing,'' said Martin, a former Gophers defenseman who plays for Pittsburgh. "And we all know where we stand. The last time [during the 2004-05 lockout], there were a lot of different opinions. We weren't all on the same page.

"One of the main points he made to us was that if we were going to go through with this, we had to be prepared to be locked out, with the worst-case scenario that we would miss a whole season if that's what it takes to get a fair deal. This time, we're a lot more unified.''

The players deserve the services of a pro like Fehr, if only because of the wretched history of their union. The first executive director of the NHLPA, Alan Eagleson, served prison time for fraud and embezzlement. His successor, Bob Goodenow, promised to never accept a salary cap; when the players' resolve fractured during the season-long lockout of 2004-05, the owners got their cap, and Goodenow lost his job.

Three others briefly kept the seat warm for Fehr, who was hired in December 2010. In him, the NHLPA got both an impressive résumé and a leadership style that promoted the unity essential to contract talks.

During Fehr's 26 years as head of the baseball players' union, salaries rose from an average of $290,000 to $3.2 million. In his role with the NHLPA, Fehr has communicated clearly and frequently with players and involved more of them in discussions, giving them a feeling of empowerment. Tom Lynn, a player agent and former assistant general manager of the Wild, has known Fehr since 1995 and called him "open, firm and honest.''

Lynn said those qualities will help the players avoid the divisions that developed in their ranks during the last lockout. It also won't hurt, Lynn said, that Fehr knows NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman well. The poisonous relationship between Bettman and Goodenow contributed to the season-sinking lockout eight years ago, and the tone of the talks this time reportedly has been more civil.

Koivu was among 300 players who went to New York last week for a meeting with Fehr, including an impressive photo op in which many of the league's biggest stars stood behind their leader.

"We learned a lot,'' Koivu said. "Just the way he runs the meetings and his knowledge of everything going on, we're confident with him, and that helps us a lot.''

All that has altered the balance of power in the NHLPA-NHL relationship. The players' collective will is being tested already; Martin said their first instinct is to do whatever needs to be done to get on the ice, and they do not want to hurt the fans or the people who depend upon NHL games for their livelihoods.

This time, though, players are confident Fehr will help them maintain the strength of their convictions. In other words: Be prepared for a long wait.

"Normally, we're a team of 23,'' Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom said. "But now we are a team of 700. This is about future NHL players. It's not about today. It's about tomorrow.''

Rachel Blount •

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
Golden State 102
Portland 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Colorado 3
Montreal 1 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 60 FINAL
Oregon 65 FINAL
Oregon State 62
UC Santa Barbara 98 FINAL
Hawaii 90
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question