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The Globe and Mail

Players hoping Fehr takes leadership position with union

The Major League Baseball Players Association has approved an $11-million (U.S.) severance package for Donald Fehr.

Gary He/AP

Donald Fehr has not officially decided if he wants to run the NHL Players' Association but one of its most well-informed members thinks there is a good chance the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association will be involved in the next round of collective bargaining at the very least.

New York Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who is not one of the 30 members of the NHLPA's executive committee but remains well-versed in union issues, has spoken to Fehr a few times and has the impression he is willing to help.

"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 Monday. "But he wouldn't mind helping out or try to mentor a guy to do it.

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"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."

That sentiment appears to be shared by most of Roloson's union brothers, many of whom have gathered in Toronto for two days of meetings starting Tuesday to approve a new constitution and perhaps finally choose a new executive director to replace Paul Kelly, who was fired almost a year ago in August, 2009. Several players at the NHLPA's charity golf tournament here on Monday echoed Roloson's hopes that Fehr, 61, will agree to lead the union in some capacity.

"We couldn't ask for anybody better to be helping us through what's happened in the last couple years," Matt Stajan of the Calgary Flames, another former member of the executive committee, said Monday. "These next few years obviously are going to be important for the union."

The collective agreement with the NHL expires in September, 2012, and the union needs to solidify its leadership soon. It has been in disarray for most of the five years since the last lockout ended in 2005, having fired three consecutive executive directors going back to Bob Goodenow, who led the players through the lockout.

Fehr's official capacity at this point is as an advisor to the committee charged with writing a new constitution, which will be presented to the executive committee at these meetings, and the search committee for a new executive director. But as the players worked with him they became convinced Fehr was the best choice as a new executive director.

However, it is not clear where Fehr stands on the matter. The last time he spoke publicly about the NHLPA was after a meeting with player agents (who also want him to take the job) and he declined to address the question directly.

"I was asked by some players if I could help them out," Fehr said at the time. "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.

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"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."

While players like Roloson are convinced Fehr is willing to handle the labour negotiations, the former baseball union boss has made it clear he is not willing to take up a full-time job running a union again. The prevailing sentiment, which is speculation at this point, is that Fehr can be convinced to handle the labour negotiations with a second person hired this summer to run the union and then be the overall boss once a new collective agreement is in place.

"Whatever needs be," Mike Cammalleri of the Montreal Canadiens said. "Like you said, that's speculation. It's the first time it's been presented to me and I don't have a problem with it."

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