NHLPA puts heads above the rest
Union urges give and take as players, NHL set to face off over No. 1 issue: Safety
ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
TORONTO — Donald Fehr is hoping head-shots and increased supplementary discipline don’t become contentious CBA issues.
However, it’s clear that’s where some of those issues are destined to be hammered out.
In a rare interview, the new executive director of the NHLPA told the Calgary Sun while he was encouraged by many of the initiatives coming out of the recent GM meetings, there’s plenty of work to be done before they’re implemented.
“It’s certainly possible you could have discussions on health and safety when CBA talks take place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have ongoing discussions,” said Fehr, who spends his weekdays at the NHLPA’s Toronto office before jetting back to New York City.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the league on a lot of these issues, and what I’d like to have happen near the end of the season around the time the competition committee meets is have agreements on these type of issues. We share the same goal and want to make the game as safe as possible without changing it.”
That last part has to be music to the ears of all hockey fans.
However, few doubt the players and owners are gearing up for another collision course in the summer of 2012 when the CBA expires. And with that in mind, everything the two sides do together will involve an insistence that when one side gives, there’ll have to be plenty of take elsewhere.
For example, while it’s only natural the Players’ Association would bristle at the notion the league will hand out stiffer, costlier suspensions for blindside head-shots, it would be much more palatable if the teams and coaches were also punished.
“One of the issues Gary raised was looking into the possibility of taking action against clubs and personnel if there are continued violations — that’s certainly an issue I would urge them to follow through on,” said Fehr, the longtime head of baseball’s powerful union.
“And, hopefully, we’ll have conversations on that, too.”
What will undoubtedly be a huge issue throughout the next CBA talks is exactly who metes out justice as Colin Campbell has done for more
than a dozen years. Talk to players around the league and they’ll quietly tell you while they’re OK with stiffer suspensions as a way to reduce dangerous hits, they puts more of an emphasis on getting it right. And, in their minds, that means having an independent adjudicator from outside the league in charge.
Fehr wouldn’t comment on such a notion but would say, “whenever you get into changing of discipline, that’s something the Players’ Association would want to discuss.
“Two issues arise when you have longer suspensions,” added Fehr.
“If you have some sort of infraction to a rule or procedure and there’s an agreed-upon penalty, that’s one thing. But the second thing revolves around proof and whether everybody feels the person making the judgments is fair and consistent.”
It appears there has been plenty of cooperation between the two sides as they work behind the scenes to make the game safer — especially with regards to the strict new protocols put in place to handle players who may be concussed.
“Absolutely, those protocols are a great example of what you can accomplish when you work together,” said Fehr.
“They are a product of a joint effort between the union and clubs and doctors. Where you have the GMs discussing player safety and rules and enforcement of rules and handling concussion, that’s all to the good. I don’t have any quarrel with that.”
There’ll be plenty of time for quarrels down the road.