SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Labor and Agents

Veterans, new faces to steer talks

NHL brings familiar leaders to table, but union has transformed

As collective-bargaining negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association begin, discussion of the key issues for the league and the union will be notable as always — but so too will be the matter of who is doing the talking. Veterans of hockey negotiations past will be joined by key new voices, but those new individuals are far from inexperienced when it comes to business and labor.

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The CBA expires Sept. 15. Talks between the two sides were expected to start late last week. Following is a look at some of the individuals expected to play important roles on both sides of the table in the weeks and months ahead.

LEAGUE SIDE

GARY BETTMAN, BILL DALY: As commissioner, Bettman is undoubtedly the face of NHL management and wields the most influence on ownership, but deputy commissioner Daly will manage the league’s attorneys and have a strong voice in all discussions with the union. Daly is experienced, having started with the NHL in 1996 and having coordinated all negotiations that led to the current CBA. He has a solid working relationship with the press, so when the league does choose to comment — at least early in the negotiations
The NHL’s Gary Bettman (top) and the NHLPA’s Don Fehr will lead the sides in negotiations.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
— there is a good chance it will come from Daly.

Jacobs
JEREMY JACOBS: These will be the first CBA negotiations since Jacobs was named chairman of the NHL’s board of governors in 2007. However, the Boston Bruins owner has been a major player in NHL labor negotiations for more than three decades and is one of Bettman’s most trusted confidants.

LOU LAMORIELLO: The president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils is arguably the most respected team executive in the NHL. He was deeply involved in the last negotiations and will be again.

ED SNIDER: As the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers since 1966, Snider has always been a strong voice in the NHL boardroom. As chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, Snider’s fingerprints were all over the league’s decision to align with the former Versus as a TV partner, a deal that ultimately led to the 10-year, $2 billion deal signed with NBC last year. Snider’s influence has never waned.

Vinik
JEFF VINIK: Vinik saved the Tampa Bay Lightning in March 2010, when he purchased the team from a previous ownership that was marked by steep debt and internal squabbling. A year later, he was named to the board of governors’ executive committee. He could be a big voice for the small-market franchises in these CBA talks.

ROCKY WIRTZ: In October 2007, Wirtz followed his father, Bill, as president of the Wirtz Corp. and chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks. He restructured the team’s front office, and in 2010, the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Wirtz set the stage for these CBA negotiations by saying in April that the Blackhawks are not profitable despite selling out more than 200 consecutive games.

PLAYERS SIDE

DON FEHR: The players side in these labor negotiations will be led by a much larger and completely different cast of people than it was the last time around. Fehr, widely considered the strongest union leader in sports during his time at the helm of the MLB Players Association, was named NHLPA executive director in December 2010. He spent much of the last year and a half canvassing and getting to know the union’s membership. Said one NHL agent, “He’ll sit down with the players and say, ‘What do you want to do?’”

Last week, Fehr unveiled the union’s formal negotiating committee, a 31-player group, but he added that any player who wants to attend the CBA talks could do so at the union’s expense. That’s a stark contrast from the labor talks of 2004-05, when the NHLPA gave the union’s seven-player executive committee power to negotiate a new CBA. It’s not, however, different from what Fehr has done historically.

Michael Weiner, who succeeded Fehr as MLBPA executive director, remembers that during the 1990 MLB lockout, the union under Fehr’s leadership would take as many as 100 players to the commissioner’s office for a negotiating session. “[In baseball], any player who wants to be involved, can be involved,” Weiner said. “If 50 guys want to show up, they can show up. Does it mean that 50 guys will be in the room for every minute of bargaining? No.”

Fehr understands both large-group and small-group dynamics. At times, Weiner said, a few players and union staff members would go into a session and then report to the larger group. “The point,” Weiner said, “is you want to generate a unionwide consensus, and in order to do that, you need a broad and wide range of opinions.”

DON ZAVELO: The NHLPA hired Zavelo last October as its general counsel. A labor attorney who worked in the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board for 30 years, Zavelo served most recently as the group’s deputy regional attorney. Labor negotiations can involve one side or the other filing an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB. Zavelo was in charge of directing investigations and trial work involving such charges during his years at the NLRB.

STEVE FEHR: Don Fehr’s brother, Steve Fehr was hired with his sibling in December 2010 as special counsel to the NHLPA. The brothers have worked together since 1980, teaming previously at the MLBPA on collective bargaining and other legal matters. Steve Fehr represented the MLBPA during the collusion cases that the union brought and won against MLB in the 1980s and played a prominent role in negotiating the MLB CBAs in 2002 and 2006. He still serves as special counsel to the MLBPA and is of counsel to the Kansas City law firm Jolley Walsh Hurley Raisher & Aubry.

Schneider
MATHIEU SCHNEIDER: A former defenseman who played 20 seasons in the NHL and served on the union’s executive board eight times as a player representative, Schneider in February 2011 was named special assistant to the executive director at the NHLPA, a newly created position. Schneider has been working to educate players on collective-bargaining matters and is seen as likely having an active role in the CBA talks, which are expected to include player-discipline issues as well as health and safety matters, including concussions.

Langenbrunner
JAMIE LANGENBRUNNER: The St. Louis Blues veteran stands out as a key figure on the union’s 31-member players’ negotiating committee announced last week. Langenbrunner was one of five players elected two years ago to lead the search committee for the NHLPA’s new executive director. Of those five players who recommended hiring Fehr — the others were Ryan Getzlaf, Brian Rafalski, Brian Rolston and Schneider — Langenbrunner is the only one on the negotiating committee. Schneider and Rafalski have retired as players, and Rolston may join them this summer.

Besides Langenbrunner, expect George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks to be actively involved in negotiations as a committee member. Parros, a frequent fighter for the Ducks, has a degree in economics from Princeton.

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