TORONTO - News reports that Donald Fehr has agreed to become the next executive director of the NHL Players' Association are premature because the process has not been completed, according to a union official.
But the official, chief of business affairs Mike Ouellet, said the NHLPA expects to complete the process before training camps next month. And while he declined to comment on whether Fehr is the leading candidate, he praised the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who has been working for the NHLPA as an advisor.
"He's got a tremendous wealth of experience in this area," Ouellet said Thursday as the World Hockey Summit concluded. "I don't think there's anybody on the planet that has the type of experience he has working for a professional sports union. That's been very valuable for the players as they work through the process over the past year."
The Sports Business Journal broke the news Wednesday that Fehr had agreed to accept the job with the NHLPA, pending approval by player reps, and that other candidates had been informed they no longer were in the running. Other media outlets have confirmed the story, some saying or speculating that Fehr has agreed to be the executive director only through 2012, when the collective bargaining agreement expires.
Fehr still needs the official recommendation of the NHLPA's five-player search committee: Jamie Langenbrunner(notes), Brian Rolston(notes), Ryan Getzlaf(notes), Mathieu Schneider(notes) and Brian Rafalski(notes). Langenbrunner told reporters Wednesday he expected a recommendation in the next week or so.
The five players "are reviewing the materials that have been sent in and the materials that they've received from potential candidates," Ouellet said. "They've been doing that for months, and they're coming close to the end of the process, but the process isn't completed yet."
Once the search committee makes its recommendation, the executive board - comprised of a player rep from each of the 30 teams - will make the final decision.
"So for the reports to come out and say an offer has been accepted is, to say the least, a little premature, just given the process," Ouellet said. "No recommendation has been made to the executive board."
How important is it to have a leader in place soon?
"I think it's always important to have leadership in your organization that can reassure people on what they're doing and help chart the path, to open the doors of the league on a number of issues that we have frankly put on the back burner," Ouellet said.
"What we've been talking about the past couple of days - Olympic participation and the World Cup - are examples of things that probably should have been advanced beyond the stage they are today, and having a leader would have helped those discussions."
Ouellet noted next week is the one-year anniversary of the departure of Paul Kelly, the last executive director.
"We've done quite well, I think," Ouellet said. "Nothing has fallen through the cracks. A number of people in the office, senior members of our various departments, have gotten together and run things quite well by committee. But that's not the way to run an organization."