A lot of agents were wowed last week when Donald Fehr, the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., updated them on his work in helping to revise the constitution of the NHL Players' Assn. and find a new head for the foundering hockey union.
Fehr, a strong and articulate presence, caught their attention for a number of reasons. He built the MLBPA into the strongest union in professional sports and, not coincidentally, the only major sports union whose members don't operate under a salary cap. And because he advised the NHLPA during Bob Goodenow's tenure, he's no stranger to the unique issues hockey players face.
Although he said he wasn't seeking to become the union's next executive director, he's getting a groundswell of support. He told reporters last week in Toronto he hadn't been offered the job but said he had found hockey players to be "quite remarkable individuals. They're bright, they care, they want to try and do the right thing. I really enjoy it."
He'd have to enjoy it a lot to plunge into the chaos that has enveloped the NHLPA since it dumped Goodenow during the last labor talks and caved in to accept a salary cap. The reigns of subsequent executive directors Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly were brief, leaving the union rudderless and open to bullying by the NHL. Most recently, the league managed to portray the NHLPA as the bad guy for not quickly accepting new penalties against blindside blows to the head, a move the league itself had long delayed.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in September 2011, though the union has an option for a one-year extension. Fehr, 61, would have to be in this for a while if he were to take the job, but he has never backed down from a fight — and he has never liked the concept of the salary cap.
It's unclear whether he could he force the NHL to retreat on that, but it would be worth the price of admission to see him and Commissioner Gary Bettman battle it out.
Matt Greene, the Kings' union representative, said he has been impressed with Fehr's hockey work.
"I think he's a guy that brings a ton of experience and tons of know-how. I think no matter what level he's at with our union, our guys are all extremely happy to have him on board," Greene said.
"I think he's done a great job with Major League Baseball, and I think if he can bring that knowledge and that experience over to us, that's something that's invaluable, to have a guy with that resume, that pedigree on your same side."
Chris Chelios, recalled by Atlanta from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, returned to the lineup after being scratched for five games and is averaging 12:33 of ice time over four games. Against Toronto, Chelios, 48, was paired at times with 19-year-old Zach Bogosian, who is a year younger than Chelios' oldest son, Dean.
A new arena in Stanstead, Canada, near the Vermont-Quebec border, will be named for former NHL coach Pat Burns, who is gravely ill after choosing to forgo treatment for terminal lung cancer. At a ceremony announcing the honor, he said that although he won't see the arena's completion, "I'll be looking down on it."
Pittsburgh reportedly is favored to play host to the next Winter Classic, on New Year's Day 2011, against the Washington Capitals at 65,000-seat Heinz Field.