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Fehr Factor

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Even the casual hockey fan--to the extent that any stull remain here--can see what's going on with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

From just about any perspective, on or off the ice, the Penguins are not only poised for short- and long-term success, but in a manner some enthusiasts would call "perfect."

Nothing ever is, of course, but whether the discussion is about the core players, winning or threatening to win more Stanley Cups, a successful offseason in the personnel department, community goodwill, branding, or opening a palace of an arena... well, things are pretty darned good.

But that may change.

It would take almost a reversal--not just a stalling--of momentum for the Penguins' paradise to be interupted, let alone troubled, but if there is one person up for the challenge, it's Donald Fehr.

That Donald Fehr.

Fehr is going to be the new executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association. It may be a stretch to call any professional athletes' representatives a "union" in the traditional sense we've known around here, but it's their union.

And after the T's are crossed and I's are dotted, he's going to be the man, which surely overjoys NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

For over a year, the NHL has been in a unique position on the labor front. The players' union has not had a full time executive director since last August. The NHL has said a new union chief would be welcome, and truth is, this period of limbo probably did present legitimate challenges to the league as well as the players' union.

But nowhere near the same challenges Bettman may face if he gets the same Fehr who ran the Major League Baseball Players' Association for a quarter-century. If you didn't notice, that Fehr proved repeatedly that we would go to the wall for the baseball players. And while the NHL may not have the same economic dynamics--or players' makeup--as Fehr's former clients and sport, don't be shocked if he's kept his stripes intact. 

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in 2011, and the union has the unilateral right to extend the deal by a year -- something they don't have to provide notice of until next May. The league has indicated it would like to have notice sooner rather than later. Good luck with that, unless Fehr opts to play nice guy, or take some time to learn the landscape.

Baseball players loved Fehr when their salaries blew up. They loved him when he won big and proved collusion. He "protected" them against steriods testing. And if a work-stoppage--or three of them--got in the way, well, it got in the way.

Again, maybe hockey players are different and things will change on Fehr's watch this time. Maybe hockey traditionalists and Bettman don't have anything to worry about. Ditto that for teams sitting pretty, like the Penguins and their fans.

Or maybe not.

For more on sports and business, listen to the Ellis Cannon Sports Business Report, presented by the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and KQV-AM 1410, here: http://www.pittsburghsportsreport.com/PSR/podcast/KQV.

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