With the new NHL CBA expected to pass with flying colors on Saturday morning after all of the votes are tabulated, a signed memorandum of understanding should be quick to follow. That will usher in the opening of NHL training camps all across North America to be followed by the beginning of the 2013 NHL regular season a week later.
Apologies have flooded in from NHL owners and players alike along with the rare personal message of regret from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but there is much less regret coming from the players side of the aisle.
The NHL players were locked out from playing, after all, and received the best deal possible in January after listening to exactly what NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr predicted would happen. Thats why Bettman made several references to the strength of the union in announcing that the Board of Governors had passed a unanimous vote approving the CBA.
Without a strong union and involvement from the players youre not going to have guaranteed contracts, youre not going to have pensions and youre not going to have any of the benefits they currently have. Its essential for the players to have all those things, said Ference.
Ive been involved with the union for a number of years and every conference call seeing the ins and outs. Its one thing to give your opinions on calls and its something else to being there in the room when its being discussed.
Its perhaps a little extra justification for a guy like Ference, who was part of an influential group of NHLPA members that pushed Paul Kelly out of the door as Executive Director. The players basically begged Fehr to then come take over the players union as they sensed a battle would be on their hands, and Ference joined the player chorus shuddering at what might have happened over the last six months without their NHLPA leader.
I think there are a couple of writers here in Boston that were in love with our last director in Kelly and think that I am the devil, admitted Ference. But I think that is so far from the truth. We are in so far better a position now as a union. The strength Fehr, his brother and everybody from the lawyers to the economist, the unity and belief that all of the guys had in them was unbelievable.
It was really impressive to see the transformation all the way from the last lockout with different people taking over the helm and constantly being disappointed, and issues arising with each and every one of them. They were issues that really yanked the union apart. To finally have some stability and some real leadership in a guy that could come in and do a really time-crunched job of getting to know everybody and unifying everybody in a tough situation is awesome. Everybody in the locker room and everybody in the meetings will tell you the exact same thing.
What would happen if the old NHLPA leadership was still in charge?
Im sure wed already have been playing, said Ference. Im sure we wouldnt have missed as much hockey and Im sure the league would have been salivating about it. Thats the blunt answer, for sure.
Instead the players held for their best deal possible while still handing the owners many of the things they coveted in a new CBA, and they did it while still leaving room for a 48-game schedule that should win back those on-the-fence hockey fans.
That is also called the best possible resolution of the hot mess that the NHL CBA had devolved into.