TORONTO – Donald Fehr is a step closer to becoming the NHL Players' Association's executive director.
The union said Saturday it has accepted the recommendation of its search committee and will put Fehr. to a vote among its membership.
Players are expected to vote following individual team meetings during training camp this month and early into the regular season. Members also will vote on various amendments to the NHLPA constitution.
Fehr said ultimately his fate rests with the players.
"If they feel comfortable about that (search committee recommendation) then I assume that will suggest they ought to vote to ratify the recommendation the board has made," he said. "If they don't then that would suggest the opposite.
"It's the players' judgment to make."
The collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and the league is set to expire in September 2012.
The 62-year-old Fehr has been serving as an unpaid NHLPA consultant since November.
"It was not something I expected," Fehr said. "It was something that came out of the processes and is what the player members of the committee thought was the best choice after evaluating the entire circumstances.
"It was a bit of a surprise to me. It was not what I expected to happen."
Fehr joined the Major League Baseball Players Association as general counsel in 1977, and served as the executive director for 26 years until he stepped down in December 2009.
If Fehr becomes the NHLPA's executive director, he'll take over an organization that's been plagued by turmoil and uncertainty in recent years. The union has had four different leaders since the end of the 2004-'05 lockout.
And while the NHL lockout remains fresh in the minds of many hockey fans, Fehr said a work stoppage always remains a last resort.
"You bargain in good faith and you do everything you can to try and reach an agreement," he said. "You only come to it if you believe that the issues require it and there are no other viable options available to you.
"That was always the case in baseball and that's the philosophy that I would bring to representing hockey players or representing union members in any other industry. I would hope and I am prepared to assume unless and until events suggest otherwise that people we're negotiating with view a lockout and a work stoppage also as a last resort."
Fehr was quick to caution there's still plenty of time remaining on the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, but added that doesn't mean there's nothing for the new NHLPA executive director to do.
When asked to characterize the relationship that exists between the NHL and the NHLPA, Fehr said it was too soon for him to make an assessment.
"I'm not really in a position to do that on an informed basis," he said. "All I can tell you is collective bargaining, sort of by definition, is a bit of an adversary process.
"Having said that, it's obviously in the interests of both the players and the leagues to cooperate when they can and to eventually reach agreements that they both can live with and that they can operate under. I would not want to make a characterization certainly at this point before I have a really good feeling as to what that situation is. That will have to come down the road a bit."
Something new Fehr would have to handle in potential negotiations with the NHL is a league-mandated salary cap, which doesn't exist in baseball. But he took a philosophical approach when asked about his opinion regarding a salary cap.
"I can tell you what my view was in baseball, which was it wasn't needed and I didn't think it was appropriate and I think events have pretty conclusively demonstrated that the union was right about that," he said. "All sports are different, the economics of all sports are different, the makeup of the membership is different.
"In the end, you have to make judgments based upon those kinds of things. It doesn't necessarily mean what works in one place works in another. On the other hand it also isn't necessarily true that just because something doesn't work somewhere means it won't work here."