BOSTON — The NHL Players' Association finally has a leader.
Former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Donald Fehr has taken the same position with the NHL union, the NHLPA announced on Saturday.
The NHLPA stated that the players "voted overwhelmingly" in favor of appointing Fehr, who had been endorsed by the union's executive board.
Bruins player representative Mark Stuart was very pleased with the decision.
"I'm excited," said Stuart. "I think he's the right man for the job and everybody is excited to have him on board. He's helped us out a lot the past half year. He's done a great job and league-wide guys are excited about it."
Fehr, 62, had been working with the NHLPA as an unpaid consultant, but now assumes formal leadership of the union.
"That was the biggest thing, just having somebody in that position," said Stuart. "And to have him is even better. Nobody in the world knows more about the labor business in sports. He did a great job in baseball, and I think we're lucky to have him on our side."
Stuart stated that there was almost universal support for Fehr among the players once they got to know him, and that it was important to Fehr to have that support before accepting the position.
"That was the big thing for him too, to make sure that everybody was on board," said Stuart. "That is wasn't just the guys on the executive board but everybody league-wide wanted him on board. The reaction from the guys has been great. I think guys realize how much he's helped us and how much can help us."
The NHL and NHLPA are heading toward another round of possibly contentious labor negotiations, with the current collective bargaining agreement due to expire in September 2012.
"He can definitely educate us," said Stuart. "I think that's the biggest thing is just educating the members about what's going to happen and what we're up against. I don't think there's any better person to do that than him.
"Experience goes a long way, and nobody has more experience than him," added Stuart. "He's been around the business and his knowledge is pretty impressive. You can't buy that experience."
The NHLPA and NHL will be looking to avoid another costly work stoppage after the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled by an owners' lockout before an agreement on the current CBA was reached. The threat of another extended work stoppage looms in 2012, but Fehr tried to allay those fears in a conference call with reporters on Saturday afternoon.
"When it comes to labor negotiations, I can tell you precisely the same thing that I've been saying in this role for the last 33 years," said Fehr. "That you have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the owners, and we will do that. They have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the players and I trust and hope that they will do that also.
"We treat a work stoppage, a strike, as a last resort," added Fehr. "It's something that you consider only when you believe that all alternatives have failed. We certainly hope, and I certainly believe, that the owners will treat it as a last resort on the other side, too. So if you would ask me, 'Do I anticipate a stoppage?' The answer is no, and I certainly don't hope that we will have one. But I'm not going to predict what happens during negotiations."