Donald Fehr will finally be confirmed as the new executive director of the NHL Players' Association on Saturday.
The vote by the NHL's 700 players to confirm his hiring was nearly unanimous and an announcement by conference calls is expected on Saturday. This will bring a long period of uncertainty to an end for the union, which has not had an executive director for more than 15 months.
The appointment was anticipated since early November but logistical problems in the voting by the NHL's 700 players caused delays. Some teams were in the middle of road trips during the voting, which caused a delay. Contrary to some reports, the delay was not caused by any opposition to Fehr's salary or hiring or residence plans, according to a source close to the union.
"He's got the guys believing in him and he should," the source said.
The players were informed of the results of the vote earlier this week. They were also told the union's new constitution, which was drawn up under the guidance of Fehr, was approved as well.
Fehr, 62, represents a coup for the players union, which has been in turmoil since the 2004-05 NHL lockout. He became famous during 33 years with the Major League Baseball Players Association, most of them as executive director. Fehr retired from the baseball union in June.
However, Fehr is not expected to remain as head of the hockey union for the long-term. He is expected to stay long enough to negotiate a new collective agreement with the NHL. The current collective agreement expires in 2012.
Fehr, who was not available for comment, is expected to hire a deputy, who will be groomed as his successor. Under the terms of his contract, Fehr will also bring in his brother Steve as an outside counsel and split his time between the union office in Toronto and the New York area, where he lives.
The hiring will bring long-needed stability to the union, which floundered after losing to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the 2004-05 lockout. Three NHLPA executive directors were fired in the wake of the lockout, starting with Bob Goodenow, followed by his successors, Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly.
Fehr's most immediate task will be to rebuild the union's staff, which was decimated by the infighting that resulted in Kelly's firing on Aug. 31, 2009. Then he must turn his attention to collective bargaining, as the current agreement expires at the end of the 2011-12 season.
A tough fight is expected, since the NHL owners will be looking for a wide range of concessions. The owners are expected to demand the players' share of the league's hockey-related revenues be cut back from its current 57 per cent. They may also change the revenue-sharing among the owners by allowing some money-losing teams in big markets to participate, which will have an effect on the money available to the players. At present, teams in markets with more than 2.5 million television homes, like the New York Islanders, cannot receive anything from revenue sharing.