Former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Donald Fehr was formally introduced as the new executive director of the NHLPA on Saturday as the players voted overwhelmingly to appoint him to take over a position that has been officially vacant since October 2009, after Paul Kelly was dismissed in a controversial move by the players and interim director Ian Penny resigned a month after Kelly's dismissal. The NHLPA has been consulting with Fehr over the last six months as it tries to right what many like to describe as a "rudderless ship."
The hope amongst players across the league and here in Boston is that Fehr is the right man for the job after 33 years in the same position with the MLBPA.
"I'm excited," Bruins defenseman and player rep Mark Stuart said when asked about Fehr taking over. "I think he's the right man for the job and everybody is excited to have him onboard. He's helped us out a lot the past half-year. He's done a great job and league-wide guys are excited about it."
With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire at the end of the 2012 season and the threat of another work stoppage out there, the Players Association felt it was imperative to get the right man for the job and to do so now, so that that person would have time to prepare for negotiations on the next CBA. The Players Association also wanted a leader who would educate the players on what needs to change.
"That was the biggest thing, just having somebody in that position," said Stuart. "And to have him is even better. Nobody in the world knows more about the labor business in sports. He did a great job in baseball, and I think we're lucky to have him on our side. He can definitely educate us. I think that's the biggest thing is just educating the members about what's going to happen and what we're up against. I don't think there's any better person to do that than him. Experience goes a long way, and nobody has more experience than him. He's been around the business and his knowledge is pretty impressive. You can't buy that experience."
Goalie Tim Thomas, who has spent much of his free time in the past year on the phone with a NHLPA constitution review committee, pointed to Fehr's experience being the major factor in voting him in as well.
"I think he was a good choice," Thomas said. "He's got the type of experience that really nobody else in the world has at what he does. Sports unions are different than other unions so you can have been heavily involved in other unions but really it's not really comparable to being part of a sports union and he's been part of a sports union for most of his adult life. Having met him and worked with him, he's very experienced, very smart and I think he's the right guy at the right time for us."
Thomas, though tired and wishing he had more time with his family, said he is glad he could help start the fixing process for the NHLPA. As he pointed out, there's plenty of work to be done, but he said he believes the NHLPA is headed in the right direction.
"It needed to be done," Thomas said of committees figuring out what is wrong with the NHLPA and how to fix it. "We're getting things ironed out now. Last year, I spent many, many hours on the phone. You know, I had the Olympics and then the injury and the constitutional committee, and my oldest daughter was complaining I was on the phone so much and that was because of the constitutional committee. It's hard to do stuff during the season but it had to be done. We tried to get it right as much as possible but there is still plenty of work to be done. This isn't going to happen overnight. But we seem to at least be going in the right direction and make it sustainable."