“Everybody is behind Don Fehr 100 percent,” said one NHL agent. “He’s done a great job communicating with everybody. He’s breathed life into the union.”
Fehr’s approach to communication prompted the biggest blowup yet in negotiations. Bettman’s press conference last Thursday was partly in response to Fehr’s insistence that the sides were close to a deal. Bettman’s between-the-lines message to the players was the following: Don’t believe what your leader is telling you.
“The players are losing $8 to $10 million in salary per day,” Bettman said.
The sacrifice the players have made, of course, has been via their paychecks. Some in the league believe that Fehr, to use a phrase that’s become common during the lockout, doesn’t have any skin in the game. Fehr is an outsider who might not be on the job for long. The belief within the NHL is that once the lockout concludes, the 64-year-old Fehr will hand the keys to younger brother Steve. Steve Fehr serves as the NHLPA’s special counsel and is considered the union’s foil to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
The end is in sight. As the threshold for a 48-game season approaches — Bettman said he couldn’t imagine anything less — the sides are closer than ever.
Even Fehr doesn’t know the outcome. Last Saturday, Fehr addressed the Canadian Auto Workers Council in Toronto. At his speech’s conclusion, Fehr shared what he’d learned from Miller.
“In the end, if you really don’t have any idea what to recommend, or none of the choices are good, or none of the options appear to be tremendously better than the others, what you do is you trust your membership,” Fehr said. “They’ll tell you what the right thing to do is. All you have to do is make sure they know what the issues are. Involve them enough so they understand the context. If there’s any message I can pass on to you, it would probably be to reaffirm that which you already know. If you trust your members, you tell them the truth, and you involve them in the process, you’ll get about as far as it’s possible to go. You can’t ask for more.”
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.