BRATISLAVA – NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr sheds light on what brought him to the game and what he sees for its future in Part Two of this exclusive interview with IIHF.com after Part One yesterday.
How much of a priority is for you to work out a new Player Transfer Agreement between the NHL and European leagues through the IIHF?
There is a long history of agreements in this regard, and there have been ongoing discussions which have reached satisfactory conclusions in some cases and not in others. We have staff working on it, but if it becomes necessary for me to sort through the circumstances, then at some point I’ll try to do that. Hopefully, it will happen without anyone needing me.
There are several large issues in the CBA that need to be worked through. How do you sort them out in a timely fashion to avoid a lockout?
There are three things you have to do. First, you have to prepare your database. You need to get all the information about how things actually work, what the financial structure of the game is, where there are problems or not, which undoubtedly will involve negotiations with the league on an ongoing basis.
Stage two, you have to discuss all this with the players. You have to come to a conclusion with them as to what kind of an approach in bargaining they would like to take.
Then you have to go and talk to the owners. When the owners do this – although it’s a little simpler for them because they’re dealing with vastly fewer people than we are – they have to go through the same process.
Eventually, you get to the point where you sit down and start talking and figure out what differences you have and how great those differences are and how you can find a way to bridge those differences.
When will negotiations start? I can give you two answers. The first one is, when everybody is ready. That could be a year from now, a year from August. It could be some other date. There’s no way to tell at this point.
The second thing is, if your preparation and your joint preparation and your understanding about what the facts are and what you’re going to negotiate from actually proceeds, sometimes you have discussions which leads to something some time down the road and you look back and say, ‘Gee, that started way back then before we knew we were even doing it.’ I don’t know whether that will happen here. It didn’t happen very often in baseball, but it did happen.
Fighting performance enhancing drugs in an issue in all sports. The IIHF and IOC operate under WADA. What possibilities do you see in terms of expanding the scope of testing in the NHL?
A couple of things. First, if there is a desire by either side to re-visit that issue, by which I mean modify the agreements – I’m sure that will be an issue in bargaining that will come up – then it’s one of those things we’ll get ready for. Secondly, it’s not my impression that there are many issues in the sport, and that’s good. I’m hoping it will be one of those things around which little or no news will be made.
One of your jobs involves finding a successor. Is that something you think about right away or consider after the new CBA?
If you look at any CEO, what they will tell you in a normal business context is that you have to make sure that the organization is okay if you walk out in front of a bus. That’s something you do ordinarily. Second, you hope you build an organization that is independent. Third, I’m not 45 years old. I’ll be 63 this summer, so I don’t know how long I’m going to do this – that depends in large part on whether the players want me – but at some point you turn your attention to that.
When I talked about that with players, what I wanted them to understand is that this isn’t a situation like I walked into with baseball where I could be there for a quarter of a century. Are there any specific plans to go out today or tomorrow and try to find somebody? No.
What are you enjoying the most about taking on this new challenge?
The players. I enjoy talking to them. I enjoy seeing them. I enjoy bouncing ideas off them. I enjoy interacting with them. And then there’s something else. And I didn’t think I’d miss this when I left baseball. To a certain extent, elite athletes are different than those of us who wish we were. They can do things that we can’t. Otherwise, we would be doing what they are doing. It’s really something to watch them do it. It really is.
The way they express their athletic skills is different than what I’ve been watching the last 25 years because the nature of the games are different. It’s really a lot of fun. I used to joke in baseball that the only real way to bring home to the fans how different this is from what you played in junior high school is to stand at home plate and let somebody throw you a pitch, assuming you can manage to stand there when it happens.
The counterpart here is to stand out there and watch the speed at which the players are coming at you or going by you or the puck is moving or how fast directions change. This is not the stuff you see every day.
What would you like the hockey world to look like when you leave, after the next CBA, after Sochi, whenever?
I don’t have a vision for that. I would like the players to be satisfied that they have a functioning organization which represents them well, is a credit to them, and which they are proud to belong to and that has achieved some real things. That’s what matters. Other people’s opinions as to what they would like to see don’t really matter to me all that much. It’s the players’ opinions that matter.
The only other thing I can say on a broad scale is that I’d like to put my hand to – and I’ve heard many talented people have before me – is why the NHL doesn’t generate revenue at the numbers some of the other sports do in North America. That means to me there’s a whole lot of opportunity out there, and while it’s not the primary job, if I and the staff I bring on can figure out a way to move the sport closer in that direction, that’d be okay, too.
ANDREW PODNIEKS & LUCAS AYKROYD