SBJ/August 6-12, 2012/Labor and Agents

Some expect Fehr to propose new economic model

What will Don Fehr’s first move be in the NHL’s collective-bargaining negotiations?

That’s the predominant question among observers of the talks, which actively started six weeks ago and continued last week. There’s a growing belief that Fehr, NHL Players’ Association’s executive director, will not necessarily respond to the league’s initial proposal but will counter with one that would include a new economic model.

What hockey insiders, as well as people who know Fehr, do not expect is for him to use the NHL’s proposal — which would roll back player salaries by 22 percent and place new restrictions on player contracts — as a basis on which to negotiate.

Gene Orza, who worked with Fehr for 26 years before retiring as MLB Players Association chief operating officer in 2010, said that, while he hadn’t talked to his former colleague and knows little more than what he’s read, “I am not sure that Don could take that proposal seriously. My history with Don suggests he will not respond in kind.”

Fehr has not said when he will respond to the NHL’s proposal, but last month he hinted that the players may seek a different economic system.

“When and if we come to the conclusion we want to suggest a new way of doing things, whether it’s on [the salary cap] area, changing the system, scrapping it or [introducing] increased revenue sharing, we won’t have any problem in making that suggestion just as they did the last time,” Fehr said, according to a report in Canada’s Globe & Mail. The report also said Fehr was skeptical about NHL owners’ assurance that the salary cap system was here to stay.
Neither the NHL nor the NHLPA would respond to questions about Fehr’s comments.

Orza, when asked what Fehr might have meant by the statement, said, “I think he is saying that he is keeping his powder dry. But that he is going to have a proposal of his own, not one reflective of the objectives of the owners.”

Although many sources on the players’ side have said they don’t believe the players will try to eliminate the salary cap, which the NHL implemented after the lockout in 2004-05, some have said in recent weeks that they believe the players may propose that larger-market clubs share more revenue.

Former player Marty McSorley, who was active in the NHLPA, said players hired Fehr to “think outside the box.” Asked what he thinks Fehr will do, McSorley said flatly, “He is going to propose a revenue-sharing tax.”
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