A significant number of the most prominent player agents would like to see Donald Fehr become the next executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, a job that has been vacant since Paul Kelly was fired last August.
However, at a meeting of 143 player agents in Toronto yesterday, both Fehr and the agents were careful not to say directly if he was interested in the job or was approached to toss his hat into the ring.
Fehr is advising the NHLPA's committees on a new constitution and the search for a new executive director, and the official purpose of this week's meeting was for Fehr to give an update on the constitution.
"After hearing [Fehr's]presentation, let's just say there is no one else who can hold his jockstrap if he decides to do it," said one agent, who did not want to be named.
Another agent, also requesting anonymity, said: "All of the agents and all of the players would be totally blessed to have him take this job."
Earlier this week it was reported that one of the players on the search committee, Brian Rafalski of the Detroit Red Wings, e-mailed the 30 NHLPA player reps, asking them to offer the executive director's job to Fehr. As the hard-line executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association for 26 years, Fehr won many labour battles with MLB, the only major professional sport in North America not to have a salary cap.
After yesterday's meeting, Fehr said he has not been offered the job, but tantalized reporters by hinting he just might be willing to be convinced to take it. He said when he was asked last fall to become an adviser to the constitution and search committees, he had "no intention" of taking another full-time job after announcing his retirement as head of the baseball union last summer.
"I was asked by some players if I could help them out," Fehr said. "I agreed to help them through the process. That's basically about all I can say about it. If there's a change in my view, I don't think that'll be a secret to anybody.
"Having said that, I've had an opportunity to meet and talk to and work with a number of players. Not a tremendous number, but a number of players. I must say that I find them to be quite remarkable individuals. They're bright, they care, they want to try and do the right thing. I really enjoy it."
Fehr stopped short when a reporter asked if he were "intrigued" by the notion of rebuilding the fractured NHLPA. "Don't put words in my mouth," he said.
Fehr also danced around the question of whether he should declare quickly if he has an interest in running the hockey union and step down from the committees to avoid a conflict of interest.
"If I ever got to the place where I said, 'This is a job I want,' and so on, then obviously that would have to be communicated [to the players]" he said. "Having said that, the ultimate responsibility with governing this process rests with the players. As long as they're informed, they'll make whatever decisions they will. I'm not in a position to comment about the process beyond that."
Fehr and others at the meeting indicated that the new constitution would not be completed until the playoffs at the earliest, and the search for a new leader would not ramp up until late June.
Given the public scorn and ridicule the NHLPA has endured because of the controversies surrounding the hiring and firing of its last two executive directors, Ted Saskin and Kelly, at least some of those involved with the union believe it would not be a good idea to simply short-circuit the search process, disband the committee and give the job to Fehr if he wants it. They may agree Fehr is the best candidate but they want the search committee to follow procedure.
"In this case, the process is as important as the person who gets the job," player agent Anton Thun said.