Call me a cynic, but I can't help but think that the NHLPA's unofficial response today to fast-tracking the new headshot rule is nothing but an up-yours to the league.
By agreeing only to a "band-aid" solution for the rest of this season and demanding more debate on the issue this summer, the five players on the NHL's competition committee are extracting revenge for the general managers' dismissal in March, 2009 of their proposed rule against head shots. At that time, then-NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly went to the GMs' annual meetings and presented a players' proposal for a rule that would have banned all hits to the head. The GMs listened and then quickly dismissed Kelly and the players' proposal.
One year later, the GMs have finally come up with a rule proposal that calls for a minor or major penalty plus an automatic league review of blindside hits to the head. Normally, the proposals from the March meetings go to the competition committee in June for possible tweaks plus approval. Then the final proposal goes to the board of governors for what is almost always a rubber stamp before being put into effect the following season.
With the headshot rule being a huge issue with the public, the NHL wanted to get it into effect right away but now the players are essentially saying, "Hold on just a minute." By saying they are willing to approve a temporary rule for the rest of this season, they are trying to avoid a public backlash.
But the players know the league is highly unlikely to go along with that. They will say, all right, let's follow the process and bring it in next season, and then turn to the public and say, "Hey, we tried."
In the meantime, maybe one or two more brains get scrambled.
Still with the players, there is a meeting in Toronto on Thursday of the hockey player agents. They will be addressed by Donald Fehr, the former boss of the baseball players' union. Fehr is working with the NHLPA's committees that are in charge of, respectively, rewriting the union's constitution and searching for a new executive director.
Fehr is sure to be asked if he has any interest in being the new executive director of the NHLPA. Larry Brooks of the New York Post confirmed what has been whispered for months, that some players want to scrap the search and offer the job to Fehr. So far, Fehr has kept mum, which is driving some of the other candidates crazy.
Now, there is nothing wrong with Fehr's credentials, but scrapping the search committee, given the leadership issues that have dogged the NHLPA for years, would be madness. Some well-qualified people have applied for the job, including David Feher, a lawyer with a long history of sports labour negotiations who has the backing of the executive directors of the NBAPA and the NFLPA.
Fehr is certainly capable but if he accepts the job the question is how long would he want such a demanding job, having stepped down from another one last year? The players could be setting themselves up for more ridicule by ignoring some great candidates only to give the job to someone who isn't around for the long haul.