Gary Bettman defeated Bob Goodenow in his last round of labour negotiations and all indications are that his next opponent will be Donald Fehr.
No one knows that for sure right now, and it should become clearer on Wednesday after the NHL Players' Association hears the recommendation of its search committee for a new leader. But all the evidence is pointing toward the involvement, at the very least, of the recently retired executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in the negotiations for a new collective agreement in a couple of years.
Fehr, who sat down on Monday for a chat with a couple of reporters on the eve of two days of union meetings in Toronto, is keeping his plans to himself. When Bettman's name came up, all Fehr would say is that he has known the NHL commissioner for about 30 years but has not had many chances of late to "interact with him."
When someone remarked that he might get all the interaction he needs when the collective agreement expires in September, 2012, Fehr remained coy.
"Somebody will," he said. "We'll see."
If the players have their way and if their agents have their way, that somebody will be Fehr. A survey of those who were playing in the union's annual charity golf tournament on Monday did not turn up anyone opposed to the idea.
New York Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson is no longer on the union's executive committee, but he remains one of the union's best-informed members. He concluded after a few meetings with Fehr, 61, that the man who won a lot of labour wars for baseball players is willing to help hockey players.
"In talking to Donald, the couple times I did, he's at the age where he wants to retire and relax; he's worked long enough," Roloson said. "But he wouldn't mind helping out or try to mentor a guy to do it.
"If we get him full-time for a couple of years, that would be awesome. If we get him to help out, to mentor somebody, that's just as great."
Roloson is not the only player who got the impression, after listening to Fehr, that he is willing to help.
"I feel like he's really taken [the union's troubles]to heart," said Pittsburgh Penguins forward Max Talbot. "He talked to us a month ago in Chicago. He was definitely really confident, a big leader."
For a guy who is supposed to be merely an unpaid adviser to the union's search committee for a new executive director and the committee to write a new constitution (which will be presented to the executive committee for approval this week), Fehr gets around. He showed up at the world hockey championship and the Stanley Cup final in the spring and he was at the league's competition committee meeting last month.
Fehr also turned up at Monday's annual NHLPA charity golf tournament. "I came out to shake a few hands and see the guys," he said.
At this point, the prevailing theory (and some union insiders warned us not to put any stock in all the rumours out there) is that the executive committee's recommendation will be to hire two people. Without getting into who has what title, one will be Fehr, who will be placed in charge of the labour negotiations. The other will run the union on a day-to-day basis and learn all he or she can from Fehr over the next two years. Once a new collective agreement is in place, Fehr will go back to semi-retirement and No. 2 will be the long-term executive director of the hockey union.
This will not necessarily all fall into place Tuesday or Wednesday. The only thing almost certain is that the new constitution, which will set the parameters for the executive director's powers, by the way, will be approved by the executive committee and sent to the membership for a ratification vote.
However, based on conversations with the players taking part in the union golf tournament, it is obvious any involvement by Fehr will quickly be approved.
"He's arguably the best union leader out there," said Mike Komisarek of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "To have him onboard, on our staff and our team, would be great. We'll see what happens in the next couple days."
Komisarek's former teammate, Matt Stajan of the Calgary Flames, said every player he has talked to hopes Fehr takes whatever role he is offered: "The general sentiment is that we trust this guy, so I think it's a no-brainer."