Faith in Fehr: NHLPA head holds steady on realignment

| Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012

The NHLPA's decision to obliterate the NHL's realignment plan rocked the hockey world.

Yet standing steady following Friday's news is Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHLPA who orchestrated the surprise move.

"He's been incredible," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "He has spoken to us a few times. Each time he puts things in terms that we understand. He doesn't talk over our heads. He's clearly a bright guy, and he knows exactly what he's doing."

Some wonder what exactly Fehr is doing.

He is identified as the primary reason Major League Baseball sustained a crippling work stoppage in 1994 when, during his stint as MLBPA executive director, a season considered by many to be one of the greatest ended prematurely.

The NHL's all-time leader in victories isn't concerned that a labor stoppage is imminent. New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur has faith in Fehr -- and that both sides can come to an agreement.

"We all know we can't have another stoppage," he said. "Both sides know that."

Brodeur is optimistic that good news will unfold from this weekend's decision to dispute the realignment, and he believes Fehr will lead the way.

"It's been impressive to see how much knowledge of the game he has," Brodeur said. "He is so cool about everything, so well educated. It's nice. It's not about the fight. It's about what's right. He doesn't want to pick a fight with anybody. We just want to make sure we're getting treated fairly."

Fehr briefly worked behind the scenes with the NHLPA before being voted as executive director on Dec. 18, 2010. He helped develop the MLBPA into the most powerful union in sports, and NHL players are excited about his presence.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires in September.

"We feel like we're incredibly lucky and happy to have him," Lovejoy said. "The union voted unanimously because we wanted him that bad. He was great for baseball. What people don't realize with all the labor problems in football and basketball this summer is that baseball had one, too. And it was solved. No lockouts. No fanfare. Donald Fehr set that up. He was the architect of it all, and we're proud to have him."

Brodeur mentioned travel as a problem in the realignment plans. He said he wasn't thrilled about teams playing in every arena and only playing most teams twice a year.

"We're losing trips to Florida," Brodeur said. "That's why we don't like it."

Then he turned serious.

"We'd only be going to (Canadian) cities once," he said. "When you're a Canadian kid, or a French Canadian like me, that's a big deal to get to play in Canada. Now, if you're hurt or something, you might not play in Toronto or Montreal for years. I don't know if I like that."

Brodeur, like Penguins player representative Craig Adams, also was critical of the league's decision to showcase two conferences with seven teams and two with eight. Those with eight teams in their conference would have a harder time making the postseason. Four teams from each conference would qualify for the playoffs under the realignment plan.

"It just doesn't make sense," Brodeur said.

Having Fehr in their corner, though, makes total sense to players, they said.

"He's been really good," Adams said.

"We will listen to him, and we will follow him," Lovejoy said. "He can only be good for us."

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