The NHL owners involved in labor negotiations have to work with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr to reach a new CBA and save the 2012-13 season. Trying to vilify him is a huge waste of time.
The sooner the owners realize that Fehr will have to be present when the new CBA is completed, the sooner this lockout will end. A deal will not be made without Fehr's involvement. This is not 2005 when then-NHLPA president and Vancouver Canucks star Trevor Linden played a huge role in working out a deal with the league.
The owners tried to complete a deal without Fehr last week when players and owners-only meetings were held that didn't include Fehr or league commissioner Gary Bettman.
The following tweet from Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press helps explain the unwillingness of the league to work with Fehr last week.
Ron Hainsey says the NHL told players last night that bringing Don Fehr back into the room was potentially "a deal-breaker."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 7, 2012
The NHLPA hired and pays Fehr to be its lead negotiator because of his experience and knowledge of the process. The players don't have law degrees and are without a lot of negotiating experience. Trying to finalize a deal without Fehr isn't an effective strategy for the league.
Which man deserves more of the blame for the lack of a new CBA?
Following the disastrous end to the previous lockout from the players' point of view, the wise decision was made to get rid of the president position in the union and find an executive director who would have a tremendous amount of authority.
In the end, the players will have to vote on whatever the two sides agree to, but Fehr will be present when the deal is made.
No player who participates in CBA talks with the owners has the authority to make a deal, not even Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who was instrumental in the progress made last week before all optimism was quickly eliminated.
The owners have to work with Fehr at some point, so trying to get the players to betray him is just a massive waste of time.
We have seen multiple occasions over the last few months when the league has tried to make Fehr look like the bad guy publicly. None of these attempts has been successful, and every week on Twitter we see many players express their loyalty to Fehr and praise the job he's done.
The problem right now is the personal dislike between Fehr and Bettman. The Commissioner has never been forced to negotiate with someone as experienced and talented as Fehr. You could tell in his press conference on Thursday evening that Bettman is very frustrated right now.
Fehr knows that he can get more from the league as the season begins to slip away. He saw the owners budge on several of their demands on certain issues last week, and as we move further into December, there's a good chance that the owners might be even more willing to soften on certain issues.
The players aren't going to cave, and that's exactly why they hired Fehr. If you are prepared to fight the league to the very end, which the players have shown thus far, then Fehr is the perfect leader.
Bettman has never worked with a players' union with this kind of leadership and resolve, and it's obvious that achieving a total victory for the owners in labor negotiations isn't going to happen twice in a row.
The days of a soft and weak NHLPA are gone now that Fehr is responsible for negotiating a CBA on behalf of the players. For this lockout to end, the owners and Bettman must put their personal dislike for Fehr to the side and work with him to get a deal done.
There's no point in prolonging this lockout because of personal grudges.