If the NHL cancels the 2012-13 season, Players Association chief Donald Fehr will be framed as the Beelzebub of labor negotiations.
He'll be a sinister rogue whose stubbornness for compromise and apathy toward The Great Game caused Armageddon. He'll be a cult leader with a pious obsession with defeating the salary cap. He'll be a blunt instrument of Bob Goodenow's revenge, seven years in the making.
It'll all be his fault, and the players will be framed as feckless sheep willfully led to the slaughter through a combination of their naivety and Fehr's withholding information from them.
A good portion of the NHL's fandom will swallow this characterization, because it would confirm many of our fears upon Fehr's hiring: That despite the delicious idea that Gary Bettman would have met his match in a labor fight, you don't hire Donald Fehr to lose your footing and make concessions.
You hire Donald Fehr to win this round.
While the CBA talks have continued to sink deeper into the mire, there are signs that Fehr's doing just that.
Tales from these talks are starting to be told, and they're painting Fehr as a Brad Marchand-level pest in the room.
Ignoring NHL proposals to negotiate off his own. Arriving for meetings late. Taking an exorbitant amount of time to fetch a glass of water during meetings (seriously).
The frustration levels for the NHL with Donald Fehr are off the charts; were this negotiation held on the ice, they would have gotten the instigator and the game misconduct for going Cam Neely on Claude Lemieux.
So now the gambit is to demonize Fehr, in the hopes that the players will fracture as they did in 2005 and overthrow him. The primary weapon, as Harrison Mooney wrote last night: Frequent accusations that Fehr has misrepresented NHL proposals and withheld information for his constituents. Which is about as serious a charge you can make about a union head; well, outside of breaking into his supporters' email accounts.
After the two sides broke for the evening -- they have yet to determine when they'll meet again -- a report surfaced that the NHL feels its latest proposal was not communicated to the players clearly in an internal memo, an assertion that NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr refuted.
"Understand that their proposal is made in front of players, in the room, who hear it," Fehr said. "Owners can't come to meetings when they want to if they want to hear stuff directly but a player can, at the union's expense, come here for himself and all the rest of it.
"That pretty much speaks for itself, I think."
Boy, the NHL's tired of hearing that accusation, too.
Meanwhile, the League is doing things many of us didn't expect them to do in this negotiation, even at this late date. They're being forced to negotiate through the media, releasing details of their proposals as they claim Fehr isn't informing the players well enough. They're the ones expressing frustration at every turn, both publicly and privately. They're the ones seen making concessions despite having the high ground.
They're the ones that seem desperate to play again, while the NHL's players support Fehr, allow their anger with Bettman to fortify their spirit and continue to find work in Europe to subsidize the loss of their NHL wages. The fact that we still have several players leave for overseas during what was framed as the most critical week of CBA talks … well, what does that tell you?
This isn't to say that what Donald Fehr's doing is right or wrong; hell, there's a part of us that really believes the entire CBA debate is a Trojan Horse for an eventual run at the salary cap.
This is to say that Fehr is the best at what he does, and we're seeing this play out in real time. As another noted negotiator once said: "Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
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