Did Donald Fehr know what he was getting into when he agreed to become the executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association in 2010?
He knew that he was going to have a major adversary in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. When it comes to being combative, Bettman had a track record after leading an owners' lockout of the players that resulted in a partial season in 1994-95 and another lockout that cost a full season in 2004-05.
Fehr, for his part, had earned a reputation of being fairly combative himself during his run as Major League Baseball's executive director. Fehr had helped the MLBPA make many gains, but he was also viewed as being largely responsible for a 1994 players' strike that cost Major League Baseball the end of that year's regular season and the postseason.
Baseball is a sport that depends on its history, numbers and continuity. To stop the game and not have a World Series winner in '94 was an unforgivable sin in the eyes of many within the game.
So, in some ways, when Fehr took over at the helm of the NHLPA, he knew he was in for a fight with a worthy opponent. Both men had shown the ability to ruin a professional sports season.
But after that lockout, Fehr toned down his attitude and rhetoric dramatically. His later years with the MLBPA were not as much about confrontation as they were about cooperation. However, there were mistakes made, particularly on the issue of Performance-Enhancing Drugs (source: ESPN.com). The MLBPA largely had its head in the sand on that issue (source: thinksteroids.com).
But now he is at a critical stage in his stewardship with the NHLPA (source: TSN.ca). The lockout has wiped out the first two months of the schedule and the annual Winter Classic has been canceled.
The players don't want to lose another full season as they did in 2004-05, and owners have reportedly informed Bettman that they don't want their momentum stalled and are not interested in losing a full year either.
After a full day of negotiations Nov. 6 (source: TSN.ca) following a weekend of talks between Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, the No. 2 men for the NHL and NHLPA, respectively, the time for making a deal seems to be at hand.
Fehr cannot do it alone, and he must get some movement from Bettman if a fair deal is going to get executed.
It's not about winning or losing at this point—mature observers realized that from the start—it's about ending this dispute as soon as possible.
If Fehr is a facilitator, he should be able to survive and thrive with the NHLPA, if that's what he wants to do.
However, if he's more about winning the war and getting that final little dig in against the owners, it could cost him, especially if that attitude forces the lockout to last longer than it has to.
At this point in his career, Fehr is more about getting the deal done than standing his ground. He's a mature business leader who knows what he's doing and it is unlikely he will turn this into a battle of egos with Bettman.