SUN Hockey Pool

Montreal sports fans won't forget Fehr

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:02 PM ET

First off, Expos fans, new NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr feels your pain, kind of.

"I think it's too bad there isn't a team in Montreal anymore and hopefully there will be," said Fehr, who was running the baseball players union in 1994 when the Expos were riding high, the Big O was packed and they were singing "Valderee, Valdera" and dancing in the aisles.

Unfortunately, Fehr called for a strike that wiped out the season and killed the Expos' chances of going to the World Series against the New York Yankees and, by extension, paved the way for the the Expos' demise in Montreal (that's a sentence that might set a record for monstrous assumptions).

"More people than you have reflected in the ensuing years on the strength of that extraordinary Expos team in 1994," said Fehr Saturday on his first day the NHLPA's executive director following ratification of his nomination by the players.

Many Expos fans have never forgiven Fehr for taking away the Expos' last, best shot at winning something. Of course, many of those Expos fans are hockey fans and Fehr's emergence as the leader of the NHL players' union is like some kind or recurring nightmare.

But Fehr said Saturday the knee-jerk reaction of those fans to brand him as a hawk in labour negotiations and to assume with him in charge there is going to be scorched Earth when the current CBA expires after next season is to ignore the facts.

"A lot of people have knee-jerk reactions to things, but a knee-jerk reaction that would say my background with the baseball players association suggests I am a hawk such that it necessarily means there will be problems in the negotiations, I don't think reflects a very complete or sophisticated understanding of what we went through," he said.

Fehr said he's not making any statements or assumptions about what might happen in the next negotiation between NHL owners and players until he gets a better grip on the business.

Fehr, 62, who was in charge of the baseball union for 26 years, sounded like a reasonable man in a conference call with the media Saturday.

There was no sabre rattling. The guy has a long and impressive track record that speaks for itself and he's right in pointing out that after the pain of 1994, baseball got it right and there has been relative labour peace for the last 16 years.

"You have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the owners and we will do that and they have an obligation to negotiate in good fair with the players and I trust and hope they will do that," he said of impending dealings with the league.

"We treat a work stoppage, a strike, as a last resort and it's something you consider only when you believe that all alternatives have failed. If you would ask me if I anticipate a stoppage, I would say no and I certainly hope we won't have one, but I'm not going to predict what happens in negotiations."

He said he hopes negotiations with the league would get underway in the spring of 2012, about five months before the current deal is set to expire.

"If there can be a way to find a shared common goal of a vision for the future and a desire to try and figure out what that should be and what kind of agreements should be reached to make that more rather than less likely, that ought to be what we are trying to do," said Fehr.

Sounds reasonable.

If he has any spare time, maybe he could also see about getting that baseball team back for Montreal.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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