When your negotiator has a vested interest beyond your own, it creates a conflict of interest that can often be damaging. Donald Fehr and the NHLPA player agents have an agenda, which is quite necessary during a negotiation, but becomes a problem when that agenda doesn’t serve the people you are negotiating for.
Ever since the 2012-13season was in jeopardy of starting late, the NHLPA has done their absolute best to ensure everyone knows how much money is at stake and how much the players are being asked to give up. I touched on this a little bit ago when I asked who were the players were negotiating for.
The players union is currently composed of players who will go on to play over the next 10 years, 5 years, 2 years and players who will never see the NHL again. It’s almost impossible to negotiate something that will make everyone happy, but at the same point in time Donald Fehr and the PA agents aren’t being particularly honest with the individuals they represent.
Tyler Dellow touched on the issues with using an agent to negotiate your deals. In it he talks about how the agent and the player might have a conflict in terms of what’s good for the agent (commission) and what’s good for the player (money, location, term, etc…). Granted there are things that agents do outside of just negotiating contracts, but that seems to be a pretty high premium for those services.
In terms of the negotiations, there are 3 groups on the players side with different goals and needs. The players need to make sure they maximize their earning potential over their careers. A lost season (or even a half season), makes it unlikely that they will be able to maximize their earnings. There are over 250 players who are scheduled to make $3 million or more this year. There are another 200 or so members who play as bottom 6 forwards, depth defencemen and goaltenders. Those kinds of players are often in a constant battle to remain in the NHL. Losing a season could be their last shot. Together, they make up about 50% of the NHLPA, and while they are in different situations, both groups are badly hurt by a missed season.
The agents are slightly different. They also want to maximize their gains, but they have to worry a lot more about the future. Giving up too much now means that their clients down the road could lose earning potential, which in turn means less money for the agents. They are the ones advising their client and while the loss this year hurts an agent, if they can get their current clients to fight their battle, they can make that lost money up in the future, something most of the players simply can’t do.
The NHLPA executive, specifically the Fehr Brothers, also have a different agenda. Part of being involved in negotiation means that there will be a winner and a loser. The bigger the win the more accolades, the bigger the loss the less secure your job will be. In both 1992 and 1994, Bob Goodenow was widely acclaimed for the 2 deals that were negotiated (including the refusal to accept a salary cap in 1994). A decade later, Bob Goodenow was basically run out of the NHLPA after his handling of the 2004-05 lockout. Regardless of how many players actually lose more than they gain from this negotiation, if the Fehr’s can win a deal that gains more for the players down the road, they’ll be championed. Donald Fehr has continued to talk about how much the players are already conceding in their current offers. What he’s not talking about is that the players are sacrificing a season now so that the group a few years from now, who will already be making significantly more than this current group, can make more. The players are losing a full season now so that they can make more in the future, which is only good if you are around for that future. Judging by the last lockout, at least 60% of the current group of players won't be around in 5 years. Talk about a sacrifice.
The players as a group are convinced that they have to be united and that they have to fight for the future. They are getting this advice from the people they hired in order to things in the best interests of the players. The problem is, when the best interests of the current players collides with the future interests of the PA and the agents, it’s almost inevitable that the players interests get pushed back. And as those interests get pushed back, they are being sold that it’s for the good of everyone now and in the future and that it’s their duty to fight for that.