- Scott Burnside, NHL
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SOCHI, Russia -- We sat down with Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, during the Games and got his viewpoints on future Olympic participation and the issues that lie ahead.
Pierre LeBrun: Where does this go after Sochi in terms of future NHL Olympic participation? Every single player we've talked to here at the Games wants to remain involved. We all understand it's more complicated than that, but ...
Donald Fehr: It's always an issue to have to shut down a business for a length of time. It's always a greater issue when you're shutting the business at a point in time in which the substitute product, if you will, is not prime time back to the areas that you are. There's always people [who] worry about the additional games and the injury risk and so on. And the question is a couple things: Is this something that NHL players should do because it's good for the game overall, good for worldwide marketing and approach and all the rest of it? It is a question as to what the players would like and prefer to do. And then it's the question of negotiating the details and arrangements to make sure we can make it work. People have a tendency, I think, of thinking I'm being cagey or holding my cards close to my vest. But in fact, what we'll do is that after this is over, we'll let it digest for a while; we'll begin to talk to the players; we'll talk to the parents; we'll see what kind of reaction federations had. And then, I'm sure, at our executive board meeting this summer, we'll have long discussions. And either then or after my meeting with the players in the fall, the players will tell me what they want me to do and then I'll go try and do it. That's basically it.
LeBrun: All 700-plus NHL players are not here in the Olympics. What's always intrigued me is the idea of how rank-and-file players who never get to play in the Olympics really feel about shutting down the game for the Olympics and whether their input is heeded.
Fehr: We do, we do [ask them]. It's no secret, there are three things that go on: There are players who play; there are players who, even if they're not playing, hope that in the future they will, or players who did in the past and think it's a good opportunity for current ones to have. The second thing is, guys like the time off; they like to see their families; they like to do that. And the third thing is, there's at least the opportunity for some nagging injuries to heal. That's not so bad. But to answer your question more directly, as far as the players' association is concerned, this decision will be made by all 720 to 750 players -- it's not made by a small group.
LeBrun: From a CBA perspective, at least from a technical point of view, a legal point of view, Olympic participation is not part of the document between NHL owners and players, correct?
Fehr: Yes. All international events require us to jointly get together. All international things. What we hope to do, and I think the NHL shares this goal, and if we're lucky -- this is going to be much larger over time -- to develop a real bang-up World Cup, to develop other kinds of international events and really take this league and the game itself to a new level with a fan base and a geographic scope, which is probably unprecedented. And we have to do that together with them. Part of that is going to be seeing what role the Olympic Games have in that process. But it's far from the only thing that's there. There's a lot of other things that are there.
LeBrun: I know you hate hypotheticals ...
Fehr: Not only that, I don't answer them.
LeBrun: OK, but what can you do as the NHLPA if the owners unilaterally pull out of the Olympics, which is technically their right?
Fehr: I choose to believe that there's going to be, eventually, an agreement with the NHL that covers all aspects of international play or an ongoing series of agreements. The reason I don't answer hypotheticals is because there are always necessary-implied assumptions in the hypotheticals, which more often than not, are not the decisions you have to make. So, I just don't want to get into that. We'll deal with it as it goes along on an ongoing basis. We intend to approach it in good faith. I fully expect the NHL to approach it in good faith, and we'll see our way through all these things. But it's too soon to talk about how or when or in what circumstances. Those things will be done later.
LeBrun: Clearly it appears the Olympic question can't be separated from the other international discussions such as the return of the World Cup, etc.
Fehr:Sure. But look, real simple point: In most big negotiations in sports, it's pretty clear there's a bunch of people that believe one thing, and there's a bunch of people that believe another thing, otherwise the negotiation would be over. You'd have an agreement. Often as not, what you end up with isn't the expressions of necessity that the people you hear about talk about. You reach accommodations. All I'm going to say about it is that this yet has to be discussed, has to be worked through, in connection with a lot of other events. We certainly take the NHL owners' views into account, and I'm certain they will take players' views into account. I don't think I'll be surprised if we can't work our way through this. Which is not to suggest what the result is going to be. I want to make that clear: I'm not suggesting that. I'm not saying except that we'll talk with the players, we'll digest it, we'll figure out what they want. Then we'll talk to the owners and run through the process.
LeBrun: Before I let you go, I want to touch on your own future as head of the NHLPA. When the lockout ended last year, you left things kind of open-ended and unclear in terms of how long you were going to do this job. Certainly seems like the players don't want to see you go. Have you made any decisions on your future?
Fehr: First of all, I said that [after the lockout] for a couple of reasons: The biggest one was that I wanted to take some time to reflect and think through. The second one was that I'd never talked about it with [the players]. They hadn't talked about it with me. We had an immediate situation; we had to get ready for bargaining, get the players engaged, begin the process, get an agreement and then begin the process -- which we're doing now -- of implementing that agreement. I've always said, and it's true, that as long as I want to do this and the players want to have me, I'll stay around. There's never been a long-term commitment made by either side in my case. If there are further discussions to be had, I'll have them with them. And then people will know. I would suggest to you that if there's any likelihood that there's going to be any change in the short term, it's not going to be a secret.
LeBrun: But are you interested in staying on?
Fehr: I really like these guys, and I really like the industry. I'm having a lot of fun. Like anybody that is in a chief responsible position, there's a lot of aggravation that comes with it, and so on, but there's also a lot of satisfaction that comes with it. I've said this before, I took this job for two reasons: Primary reason is that I really like the players. That hasn't changed at all. Going through bargaining has made it even better. Bad analogy, but you like the people you're in the foxholes with. And the second reason was, I think this sport has an enormous opportunity coming up over the next 10 to 15 years. You sort of want to be part of that if you can, whether it's in this role or some other role. It would be fun.
One of the more polarizing issues, international competition opens up a lot of questions.