Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Time for Fehr, union to get on with it
Without reading too much into Wednesday night’s sad chapter in the recording of hockey history, there appears to be a path to a deal between the NHL and the NHLPA.
While hockey media and their legions of Twitter followers hung on every second leading up to midnight in New York City, union leader Don Fehr elected not to put a stop to negotiations between himself and NHL leadership.
Fehr was empowered by his constituents to file a disclaimer of interest. Such an act would begin the process of unwinding the union and putting an end to his role as lead negotiator for the NHL’s players in their current collective bargaining agreement dispute with the league’s owners.
One of two things happened Wednesday night to stall Fehr from such a decision. One possibility is Fehr believes he is close to reaching a deal and the reputed leverage of such a disclaimer is not needed and likely counter-productive.
A second possibility is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called his bluff and less than politely told Fehr to go right ahead and file.
Regardless of the reasoning, it now appears more than ever before that the league and union are closing in on a deal.
Reports out of New York late Wednesday night suggested there were still open issues to be resolved but progress continues to be made.
The NHL has stated a deal must be reached by Jan. 11 to begin a 48-game schedule on Jan. 19. The league also has a plan for a 52-game schedule which would start on Jan. 12 but a deal would have to be completed today or tomorrow to enact that plan.
Fehr has been receiving all of the headlines in recent days and many have claimed victory for him in these CBA negotiations.
It appears Bettman, however, is still a potent adversary and he carried the day on Wednesday as Fehr’s deadline to disclaim came and went.
Surely, Fehr can go back to his executive and get another order to disclaim but that’s unlikely. If he was going to pull the trigger he would have done it Wednesday.
In not doing so he’s virtually admitted a deal is within striking distance and to disclaim now would be a most transparent sham.
The NHL has already put a class action suit in place to uphold its right to lockout the players, or, in the case the lockout is ruled invalid, to have all player contracts voided.
The union’s strategy was to use the threat of disclaimer to urge negotiations on and it worked. But its window has now closed and Fehr is left only to complete his bargaining and eventually make a deal.
The question remaining is whether he will do it quickly and get his players 52 games and the subsequent boost in pay or drag things into next week and limit the season to 48.
Fehr has certainly fought a good fight for his players but it’s over. Get on with it, Don. Do a deal and go into hockey history as the man that revived the union.
But don’t overstay your welcome. It will hurt all of hockey. Including the men that hired you to do the job you’ve now completed.
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About Gary Lawless
Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.
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