If and when Donald Fehr “officially” becomes attached to the NHLPA, it may go down as one of the worst kept secrets in the union’s history. The stashing of secrets would be nothing new to Fehr, though. While it would be unfair to call him responsible for baseball’s steroid era it’s certainly not a stretch to label him an enabler of it. Donald Fehr has always done an astounding job of representing his union’s best interests, even if those interests were not favorable among media and fans alike. He is quite possibly the greatest union head our continent has ever known.
That’s what worries me with the rumblings of his impending involvement with the NHLPA. I’ll stop short of saying that the NHL has a performance enhancing drug problem, but that’s not to say one doesn’t exist. Baseball players and owners got rich for over a decade while fans filled stadiums to cheer tainted heroes before the MLBPA and the league finally conceded that there was in fact a “problem”. To call Fehr and baseball’s commissioner Bud Selig complicit in that problem is marginally unfair, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. They had to know, right?
Selig, for better or worse will see his legacy tainted by the throes of steroid, human growth hormone, and amphetamine use. Fehr, for his part, will always be looked to as the man that helped baseball go 16 years without a labour stoppage. You could say that regardless of the cost to the game’s integrity, Donald Fehr did his job and he did it well. The NHL is on the verge of entering a critical era in the league’s existence, and to all intents and purposes it’s sounding more and more like the players’ union is banking on Fehr to be the man to carry them through that era.
Fehr has been hanging around hockey arenas and functions a lot as of late. The Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts is of the belief that it’s just a matter of time before some kind of formal agreement is reached between the NHLPA and Donald Fehr:
“No one knows that for sure right now, and it should become clearer on Wednesday after the NHL Players’ Association hears the recommendation of its search committee for a new leader. But all the evidence is pointing toward the involvement, at the very least, of the recently retired executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in the negotiations for a new collective agreement in a couple of years.”
The NHLPA covets Fehr because of the hard line stance he took with baseball’s owners; he represented the player’s financial interests as well as he did their “privacy” interests. There’s no doubt, he helped make baseball profitable again (in most markets) while battling for the player’s rights until the bitter end. He is of a dual legacy in baseball. Did he defend the players to a fault? Perhaps, although it was his duty to do so.
When hockey’s collective bargaining agreement expires in September 2012 there will be a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the game that even the most optimistic of forecasters will have trouble shedding light on. It’s not just the financial viability of the league and player salaries that will come in to question moving forward, either. The NHL has had its own brush with PED fame just last season when the Washington Capitals became a target of a disgraced doctor and investigators. For those familiar with baseball’s battle with a drug problem, the NHL’s claims of being void of a PED infestation were all too familiar.
Having Fehr’s name bounced around in the same sentences as acronyms like NHLPA and CBA really does beg the question of; is this really the right man to help lead OUR game into the next decade? If, and I reiterate “if”, hockey players are reaping the benefits of PEDs then you can bet that Donald Fehr would be relied upon for guidance on how to deal with the issue with as little sacrifice as possible. He did help get MLB to a point where its two highest paid players (Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez) are also two of its greatest cheats.
I’m not so sure Donald Fehr is a person I want anywhere near the game I love.