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Circumstances surrounding Donald Fehr’s initial involvement with NHLPA merit scrutiny and criticism

In case you don’t already know it by now, I’m a big supporter of the NHLPA. I’m well aware of the fact that the union is both constituted largely by millionaires, but I don’t resent professional athletes simply because they earn disproportionate wages compared to the rest of the world as they’re entertainers.

I’m also well aware of the fact that the NHLPA’s status as a dysfunctional entity for the vast majority of its existence could have constituted the script for perhaps the first and maybe the best “reality TV” series of all time, from Alan Eagleson’s collusion with the owners to Bob Goodenow’s bullying reign, Ted Saskin’s league sycophancy and even the ouster of Paul Kelly, but the players stood up during the lockout and told fans the truth—that the NHL was simply lying to its fans by suggesting that it was burning down its village in order to save fans from an “inflationary spiral” in ticket prices supposedly directly linked to player salaries, and I think that it’s downright sad that the PA doesn’t get credit for its December 9th, 2004 CBA proposal, which included the 24% rollback and became the backbone for the vast majority of the CBA, as well as their February 14th, 2005 proposal to agree to and install a $52 million salary cap which would not have been linked to league-wide revenues.

I agree with the NHLPA’s decision to recruit Donald Fehr as its new executive director as well, and, as the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox noted on Saturday, I think that it’s fantastic that Fehr admittedly wants to get acquainted with the game after spending the fall and early winter gauging the wishes of his constituents, the players, and their representative agents, instead of simply walking into the job making brash, out-of-his-hockey-pants statements about the game (like a certain commissioner who is perhaps the world’s most brilliant moron). 

As Cox suggests today, however, Fehr’s rise to power began during the late-night putsch which resulted in the firing of the NHLPA’s most noble-hearted and noble-minded steward, Paul Kelly, and no endorsement of Fehr should come without a close and honest examination of the circumstances surrounding Fehr’s possible involvement in the putsch which ousted the man that helped put Alan Eagleson in jail:

At that [June] 2007 meeting at the Four Seasons [in Chicago], Fehr officially became involved as a consultant to the NHLPA. He was asked to help write a new union constitution. The new constitution contained new checks and balances on the power of the executive director, including the creation of an independent ombudsman, an outside advisory board and a chain of command in which few union executives, including general counsel Ian Penny, reported directly to the executive director. That put Kelly in a very difficult political position from the day he was hired in November 2007.

In the summer of 2008, Fehr was nominated — he won’t say by whom, but it was likely by Eric Lindros — to sit on the advisory board. Fehr made a phone call to inform Kelly, who called back the next day and asked Fehr not to take the position.
Kelly told Fehr it was a conflict of interest to be an employee of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association — Fehr was still executive director of the baseball union — and to take a position with the NHLPA. A few weeks later, at a meeting in Chicago, Penny rose at a meeting involving about 50 players and demanded to know why Fehr hadn’t been permitted to join the advisory board. Kelly explained his position to the players, who then voted to reject Fehr’s candidacy.

That deepened the internal rift between the Lindros/Penny camp and Kelly. It also put Fehr and Kelly squarely on opposite sides of the growing NHLPA civil war. At one point during 2008, Fehr apparently met with Lindros in New York without Kelly’s knowledge.

On June 22, 2009, Fehr announced his intention to step down as leader of the baseball union. On Aug. 31, at 4:30 in the morning, Kelly was fired. Less than six hours later, Fehr was part of a conference call with the unionists who had launched the successful coup and Penny, the man who would briefly assume power.
Penny sought to take over the union, but couldn’t hold power and left. He ended up signing on with the MLBPA, Fehr’s former employer. The union also employs Fehr’s brother, Steve. Fehr, meanwhile, consulted with the NHLPA on yet another new constitution, one that abolished the advisory board — the same body Fehr wanted to join while Kelly was in charge — and the ombudsman position once held by Lindros. Fehr helped launch a search committee for a new executive director, but quickly became the favourite for the job and was hired in December.

Continued, and, as Cox suggests, the full report that the NHLPA spent $1 million to craft, investigating the circumstances surrounding Kelly’s wrongful dismissal and Fehr’s ties with Lindros and Penny, should be not only available to players who ask to see it…

It should also be made available to the general public, free of charge. I’m not sure if a player or Mr. Kelly could attempt to wrest the report from its confidentiality requirements by launching a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act request) or threat of legal action, but even with the stigma that such an action would brand any player courageous enough to do so, it would be worth the effort and then some.

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Bradley97's avatar

Thanks for the PA update, George. One more reason I check here first.

Also, I’d like to present the following quote for nomination as potential Malikism of the year:

[...] I think that it’s fantastic that Fehr admittedly wants to get acquainted with the game after spending the fall and early winter gauging the wishes of his constituents, the players, and their representative agents, instead of simply walking into the job making brash, out-of-his-hockey-pants statements about the game (like a certain commissioner who is perhaps the world’s most brilliant moron).

Is there a second?

Posted by Bradley97 on 03/13/11 at 03:13 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

In terms of morons? In hockey? Ron MacLean. People think that Don Cherry and Mike Milbury are the CBC’s resident morons, but every Saturday, MacLean gets is the man at HNIC’s helm from 6:30 till 11:30, and he’s an incredibly heavy-handed moralizer who always, always, always gets the last trite, cliched word.

In terms of a Malikisim?

“As previously noted.” raspberry

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/13/11 at 05:00 PM ET

Bradley97's avatar

I can’t argue with morons. Few are worse (or more entertaining) than Ron MacLean.

But what I mean by “ism” is the way you word your thoughts at times. When I read the bold above I broke out in laughter not only because it’s true but because of how you made the off-handed remark. It’s one of those things you do that keeps bringing me back.  LOL

Posted by Bradley97 on 03/14/11 at 01:15 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.


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