Before this past year, you could have taken the number of hockey fans familiar with Donald Fehr, gave them all a seat at Jobing.com Arena, and you still would have had enough open seats for the entire Phoenix Coyote fanbase.
Fehr rose to prominence as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, a role that he held for over 20 years. After vacating his position within the MLBPA, he signed on as an advisor with the NHLPA and was voted into the position of executive director in late 2010. He’s been described as one of the canniest negotiators in sports labour history, so you knew that the players weren’t messing around with his promotion.
The collective bargaining agreement that had been negotiated during the 2004-05 lockout was set to expire, which meant both the owners and players would be forced to sit down together to hammer out the terms of a new CBA. With the owners led by Gary Bettman and the players by Fehr, neither side seemed prepared to give a single concession.
For years, Bettman has more or less been the lone provoker of ire amongst hockey fans, and early on in the negotiations, the public remained on side with the NHLPA.
But as the fickle negotiating tactics of Fehr dragged the lockout into December, threatening the entirety of the 2012-13 season, fan frustration shifted from the owners to the entire process.
Luckily, it appears that the lockout is finally coming to an end, with enough time remaining for a 48-game regular season. Early reports indicate that the two sides have negotiated a ten-year deal. After 107 hockey-less days to end 2012, that’s good news to most fans.
The NHL will be back in 2013, but time will tell whether or not fans will flock back to the game like they did in 2006. If they do, and the new CBA proves to be a platform for labour stability for decades, perhaps history will show Fehr’s time with the NHLPA in a positive light.