- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Donald Fehr was finally introduced as the new executive director of the NHL Players' Association on Saturday, aka the worst-kept secret in hockey.
Pretty much the only thing the average hockey fan cares about in all this is whether the NHL can avoid another work stoppage when the CBA expires in September 2012 and what role Fehr, the longtime leader of the baseball players' union, will have in that.
"We treat a work stoppage -- a strike -- as a last resort," Fehr told us media folk on a call Saturday. "It's something 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.
"So if you were to ask me, 'Do I anticipate a stoppage?' The answer is 'no.' And I certainly don't hope that we have one."
No one is going to tip his hand in labor talks this far out, anyway, so this doesn't mean he's not going to be just as tough of a negotiator as he was in baseball. Having said that, I think Fehr knows this isn't America's pastime he's dealing with and genuinely doesn't believe a work stoppage is any way to go for this sport.
The more I talk to people around the industry, the more complaints I hear about the current system from the ownership side of things. Some owners have been in the ear of commissioner Gary Bettman about fixing certain things. As one NHL executive told ESPN.com Saturday, "My owner told me in no uncertain terms that if certain things aren't fixed, he's out. He'll sell the team."
So while the Fehr/Bettman dynamic will be one to watch in the next round of CBA talks, I think the potential in-fighting among team owners who have vastly different agendas will be just as important a factor.
Fehr was asked on the media call Saturday about a timeline for the beginning of CBA talks with the league.
"If I had to throw a target date out, I would probably say sometime a year from this spring," Fehr said. "Maybe a little sooner than that, but that's only a target date. Down the road a few months, I expect to have a much better idea of when it might make sense."
I also asked him about the possible staff hiring of former player Mathieu Schneider, who has been a long-time, staunch union guy and was part of the search committee that recommended the hiring of Fehr. Rumblings persist that Schneider will be one of Fehr's first hirings.
"I know Mathieu reasonably well at this point, I've talked to him any number of times and he seems to me to be a first-rate and extraordinary individual," Fehr said. "He certainly has an enormous amount of experience in the game and as far as I can tell has the respect of the players. He's the kind of individual that makes sense for that kind of a role. I'm not in a position today to discuss any specific hires or roles that any given individual might fill."
Other Fehr nuggets:
Fehr, I'm told, phoned Bettman on Friday to give him a heads up on his announcement. Classy thing to do and perhaps a sign that the two can get along? Well, let's not hold our breath.
Also, I was told that Fehr last Monday took in a meeting with Bettman and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to discuss the future of the NHL's Premiere Games in Europe. The league and players haven't yet confirmed their participation for next year in Europe. The league has held regular-season games overseas in London, Prague, Helsinki and Stockholm over the past four seasons.
Fehr was the runaway favorite to get the job all along, but a union source did tell ESPN.com Saturday that "a bunch’" of candidates were interviewed for the job.
Nabokov's next stop
Veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov touched down Friday in San Jose, where he's kept a home. Now what? Several NHL teams have called about him, I was told Saturday, although Tampa is the only one I've been able to confirm. I'm told Washington is not in the mix.
It's not clear at this point whether the Lightning are totally sold on the idea of signing Nabokov. I have the feeling this could go either way at this point. For starters, the team is on a budget and doesn't have a lot of cash to dole out. Also, remember that Nabokov must clear waivers with whatever team he joins.
Here's the dilemma if you're Tampa GM Steve Yzerman: you don't have a lot of money to spend, so if you sign Nabokov to a cheap contract, you risk losing him to another team on waivers that sees him as a good backup at that price. That's the risk for any team that signs him. It's possible some teams haven't even bothered calling Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan, about their interest because they're lying in the weeds waiting to snap him up on waivers.
I also think Tampa is hesitant right now because its two goalies, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, are popular teammates. You don't want to rock the room. On the flip side, the Bolts are dead last in the league in goals against, and Nabokov is an upgrade. I think Yzerman is hoping the decision is made for him in the short term by Ellis and Smith playing better. But he may be eventually forced into looking hard at Nabokov if things don't change.
Rumors of Salo's return to Canucks
There have been rumblings recently that Sami Salo is getting close to returning from injury, but a team source told ESPN.com Saturday that is not true. He's still a ways away, the source said.
The reason that's incredibly important is that once Salo returns, the Canucks will be under a cap crunch. Other NHL teams are waiting to pounce on Vancouver. But when Salo does return, the Canucks feel they're dealing from a position of strength -- lots of teams want a D-man -- so they don't think they'll be forced into a bad deal. I think they're right. Judging from the other teams I talk to, there's a demand for defensemen. Vancouver can exploit that when the time is right.
Spotlight on Capitals
Interesting story I heard from a source in Washington: Some Caps players were reticent to wear the HBO mics heading into last Sunday's game at New York. GM George McPhee apparently got involved and told them to wear the mics. Basically, he told his players to man up. It reminds me of when Pat Burns was in Toronto during my first year covering the NHL in 1995-96, and the Leafs coach used to pull the players out of the showers after a bad game and force them to come and talk to us, to face the music. So kudos to McPhee for taking that stance with his players.
Thrashers want to move Bergfors
Atlanta recently sent a memo to other teams saying to give it a call if they wanted a forward. I was told Saturday that Niclas Bergfors is the guy the Thrashers would really like to move. He was part of the Ilya Kovalchuk deal last February but has fallen out of favor.
Devils' Lamoriello searching for answers
Chatted with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on Saturday. It gets to a point where it's like, what can you say?
"This is new territory, certainly, for us," Lamoriello told said. "It's very simplistic: Your best players have to be your best players. When you look at the people that have goals and you look at the history is of goals; and then our role players, who usually always chip in different types of goals and different times -- they haven't been able to do that. So you're pressing every night. And then you get injuries to key people. These are not excuses, you just look at it because you look at the variables prior to making a decision. You have to ask the question why and quite frankly, those answers haven't come yet."
Lamoriello put veteran forward Brian Rolston on waivers this week, but there were no takers. He's earning $5 million this year and next, and he's 37 years old.
"I just wanted to see if there was anybody interested in him," Lamoriello said. "Maybe it's the beginning for something, we'll see."
Some teams have told Lamoriello that they have some level of interest but more so if they don't have to take the full brunt of Rolston's salary. In other words, re-entry waivers (half the price) or the Devils take a player back in a trade.
"This is a fantastic individual and the part of the business where your heart and the head gets in the way," Lamoriello said. "He's not the reason [they're losing]. But I made the decision to sign him and I take the responsibility. But the unfortunate part about it is that it is money."
So what now?
"He has cleared waivers, he's still with our team," Lamoriello said. "Not saying what the next step is but there are different steps and processes. We'll see how things transpire."
Jackets' Mason struggling
Steve Mason had dinner with Blue Jackets goalie coach Dave Rook on Friday night, and the Columbus netminder is in dire need of counsel these days.
The third-year NHL goalie, the league's Calder Tropher winner in 2008-09, has been pulled a league-high 12 times this season and his numbers reflect it: a 3.29 goals-against average (44th in league) and .901 save percentage (36th in league).
Veteran Mathieu Garon got the start Saturday night and will likely continue to do so until Mason can shake it off.
"We're lucky we have Garon playing as well as he has," Jackets GM Scott Howson told ESPN.com Saturday. "But Steve will work his way through this. We're confident of that."
The Jackets had hoped that Mason had left his struggles behind last season in his sophomore year. But they've come back. Right now, he's lost his confidence.
Maybe it's just me, but I think this is an example of a guy that should have gotten at least one year of seasoning in the AHL before making the jump. I know he was spectacular in his NHL rookie season, but now I think you're seeing that lack of development come to the forefront.
Kings lose Mitchell
The Kings have lost top blueliner Willie Mitchell, yet again. This time, he's out two-to-three weeks with a lower body injury.
The gamble on Mitchell in the offseason was that he could stay healthy and partner with Drew Doughty on the team's top unit. Now, he's gone down twice. All the Kings care about, however, is to have him healthy for the playoffs.
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