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THN.com Blog: Players must take larger role in union

Could former MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr end up at the helm of the NHLPA? (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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Could former MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr end up at the helm of the NHLPA? (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Contrary to conventional thinking, there are some conscientious NHLers out there who want to get involved in the direction of their union.

The problem is, once they indulge that inclination and join the battle against perennial greedmongers on the ownership side, it isn’t long before they pull their personal parachute and wind up singularly focused on just playing again.

When you swim with the sharks involved with the money side of the hockey business, it makes sense that you’d soon want to return to shore, pluck predator teeth out of your tail and even out your tan.

That’s why players who’ve been through the NHL Players’ Association wringer come out of it like a guy who thought he could hook up and mate with an attractive, rich and powerful woman, only to discover why she was single in the first place.

But that can’t continue as an excuse for an extension of the players’ historic reticence to take control and dictate the direction of their bargaining body. And with the possibility of former Major League Baseball Players’ Association head Donald Fehr joining – perhaps even leading – the NHLPA, it is more imperative than ever they get their act together.

This isn’t to suggest Fehr would be a poor choice for NHLers, nor that he inevitably would lead the NHLPA to another full-on labor war. Hopefully he’s wise enough to have seen the NHL’s 2004-05 cancelled season and arrive at the conclusion that the players have precious little leverage with which to force their collective will on 30 team owners.

And indeed, it would be refreshing to see the players hire someone to forcefully push back against league brass that are increasingly aggressive – Eugene Melnyk’s preposterous grievance against Dany Heatley being the most obvious example – toward player interests.

But understand that, until enough NHLers step to the fore and ease the burden on the NHLPA’s player representatives, there almost always will be a power vacuum within the union that is filled to someone’s dissatisfaction.

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“Look, we needed almost 100 percent buy-in from the players to change the thinking on obstruction, didn’t we?” one player agent told THN.com last week. “Unless that same level of willpower and follow-through is created by the players and for the players on an array of crucial issues, the (NHLPA) soap opera is going to play out the same way again and again and again.”

It’s one thing for the likes of Bill Guerin or Ryan Miller to lash out against the comical lack of supplementary discipline for the NHL’s head shot artists; it’s something else entirely for them to sustain their outrage and craft a strategy that will educate all players and include them in the solutions.

Whether the NHLPA’s future is Fehr or un-Fehr, nothing short of a radical departure from players’ regular business practices will ensure they never again play Lovey to the owners’ Thurston Howell III.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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