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NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr, center, is joined by Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey as he speaks to reporters, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr, center, is joined by Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey as he speaks to reporters, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Q&A WITH DONALD FEHR

Donald Fehr: The players' defender Add to ...

A: The owners in hockey locked out the players for a year last time. With the same outside advisers, you had a lockout in football and basketball and even had a lockout of the NFL officials, for goodness sake. They’ve been talking about it for a long time; everybody has known for a long time that the lockout is the strategy of first resort. So when they say they’re going to lock out and act like they’re going to lock out – and then do go and lock out – people tend to believe them. All professional athletes have short careers, they need to play when they can. And my understanding is that in most cases in Europe, the leagues have been expanded to allow for the extra positions that the NHL players are taking for what we hope will be a short period of time.

Q: That’s an interesting choice of words – that a lockout has become a “strategy of first resort.” Do you think that will ever change?

A: I don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought it would have lasted this long, but One of the problems you get into with a cap is it almost gives the owners an incentive to say: ‘Let’s lock out and see what happens.’ And that’s what has happened in all of the cap sports. I think it’s destructive, I think it creates an inherent stability – and I think it can make people look foolish, like it did in the NFL with the officials. But I think that’s the nature of cap bargaining. So, when Bob Goodenow years ago said that if you agree to a cap now you will have it for sure and the trend of lockouts is likely to continue, he was right.

Q: The owners seem to be saying that you haven’t made a real counterproposal, that you are merely repositioning. How would you respond?

A: It’s spin. I simply don’t treat it seriously. Look, the owners started out by running as fast as they could and as hard as they could away from the players, saying ‘Catch me if you can, even though every move you make is against your own interests.’ The players, instead of moving away from them, said: ‘All right, we want to try and make a deal. We’ll limit our future increases, we’ll do a couple of other things, but we want you to have additional revenue sharing and we want it targeted for the teams that need it, and we want you to cut costs so that there’s some shared sacrifice. Oh, and by the way, how can you ask us to change free agency so that it’s worse for players, eliminate salary arbitration – all these other things – which were the tradeoff for the 24-per-cent concessions you got in the last lockout?’ The owners response is: So if 24 per cent of all these things isn’t what you want, how about a fully phased in 191/2 per cent that is now a 171/2-per-cent reduction? And still all those other things on the table and we don’t agree with you on player contracting issues and there are no other costs we can cut. And, oh, by the way, if we add an extra trainer you have to pay for that, too.’ This isn’t Ping-Pong. You have to distinguish between offers which are really made for the purpose of trying to reach an agreement and those which aren’t.

Q: Bill Daly said recently that the owners and players have addressed many of the other non-core issues, and that that is a change from previous negotiations. Why that change? Is that a personal philosophy?

A: From our standpoint, if you’re bogged down on one set of issues, you go and talk about the other ones. You try and get agreements where you can. We’ve been suggesting it, they resisted it for a week or two and finally said ‘Okay,’ and in some cases progress was made and in others not much. My view has always been you negotiate about what you can find a way to negotiate about, and if you can’t negotiate on subject A you move on to subject B and then come back to A. The players have endorsed it; it’s not a very difficult concept. It’s utilized in a lot of different industries, sometimes maybe you just have to keep meeting about the same thing even though not much else is different.

Q: There has been talk of mediation. Are you open to that?

A: If it would be thought to be helpful. You do have professional negotiators on both sides, but we’d consider it. There hasn’t been a tremendous record of mediators being able to lend a lot, but that doesn’t mean in a given situation that would not be the case.

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