The day after news broke that Donald Fehr was poised to become the new executive director of the NHL players association, just about all the message boards agreed: Armageddon is just around the corner.
Fehr oversaw major league baseball's players association for 26 years, a period of time characterized by a major steroid scandal and a series of contentious negotiations with the owners over the collective bargaining agreement.
If Fehr brings his confrontational style to the NHLPA, could another work stoppage be on the horizon, just five years after the NHL lost the 2004-05 season as a result of a labor dispute?
According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
"Look, I'm not looking forward to Armageddon, that's for sure," said Daly. "The sport will be well served by dealing with its issues in a reasonable, insightful way, through the negotiation process, and that's what we're looking to do."
The NHLPA has been operating without an executive director after Paul Kelly was dismissed last summer. Kelly was the NHLPA's third leader since the lockout, following Ted Saskin, who had replaced Bob Goodenow. On some levels, the business of hockey had ground in the interim, including negotiations relating to the international hockey agenda, which requires NHLPA input.
Sources with knowledge of the situation say that while nothing is official, Fehr is leaning towards accepting the full-time position with the NHLPA and the appointment will likely go forward at some point next month, pending a ratification vote by the player rank and file.
Putting a new NHLPA leader in place is the first step towards negotiating participation in the Olympics and World Cup, among other issues that have been pushed to the backburner, during this interregnum period.
The current collective bargaining agreement has two more years to run, after the NHLPA picked up its option to extend the deal to the end of the 2011-12 season earlier this year.
"Clearly, leadership is going to be an important step forward," said Daly. "They've been without a leader and working by committee for a year. Clearly, it's not as quick, efficient and effective as it otherwise might be. We're looking forward to that decision being made and that position being filled."
As for how long it will take to make Fehr's appointment official, Daly said the NHL would wait for the process to unfold.
"We've been hearing stories about that for quite some time," said Daly. "I really haven't formed any pre-judgment. We'll wait and let the players' association do its business, name an executive director and try to develop a good working relationship with the new executive director, whoever that might be."
Speaking Thursday at the conclusion of the World Hockey Summit, the NHLPA's de facto interim leader, business manager Mike Ouellet called the reports of Fehr's hiring "not entirely accurate. There is a process that is still ongoing. The process isn't completed. When the process is completed and there's an announcement to be made, everybody will be told."
"As far as the time line goes, the expectation and hope is that it will be done before the start of training camp, which is the 17th of September."
Translation: The deal isn't finalized yet, but it is expected to get done.