TORONTO -- The fractured NHL Players' Association listened to baseball union head Donald Fehr as it tries to rebuild.
The message was clear: Keep everything out in the open.
Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association since December 1985, told 20 hockey player reps how things work at his union and what was good in their collective bargaining agreement.
"There's no secret to what we do," Fehr said afterward. "Basically all of our meetings, except meetings relating to something confidential about an individual player, are open to any player and we always have them present and participating in negotiating meetings.
"And all-around communication, discussion, involvement and making certain that when key decisions have to be made they're made by the players, and not by somebody else -- that's what we do," he said.
Fehr's talk was part of the NHLPA's three-day meeting. The gathering will end Thursday with an important vote regarding next season's salary cap and a decision on the next step in finding Ted Saskin's replacement as executive director.
The player reps also heard Wednesday from former NBA union executive Charles Grantham and veteran Toronto lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo, one of Canada's foremost constitutional, labor and administrative law experts.
The group hopes all the advice it gets will help in deciding how to restructure the organization and how to form a search committee to hire the next leader. The hockey union has been looking for a new executive director to replace Saskin, who was fired this spring over accusations he ordered the reading of players' e-mail. A full investigative report by Toronto lawyer Sheila Block is expected to conclude in August.
Meanwhile, the feeling at the NHLPA these days is one of rebirth. Members are confident that out of the ashes of a nasty bout of infighting, caused by a divisive lockout in 2004-05, will come a unified group and a new way of doing things.
"I can tell you that I'm impressed with the seriousness of the group, with their demeanor," Fehr said of the player reps. "I think they have a gut-level understanding, which is always the first step, of what the task is in front of them. If I were a betting man, which I'm not, I would guess that over the next several months moving forward you're going to see a reconstituted organization which they're all going to be very proud of.
"At least that was the indication I had," he said.
While Fehr wouldn't divulge specifics from his talk with the players, one can assume he didn't hide his feelings on the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, which for the first time included a team-by-team salary cap. Fehr's union is the last among the major North American pro sports not to have a hard limit on spending.
"I think as many of you know if you follow baseball that's not something that we think has worked for us," Fehr said of a salary cap.
The current NHL agreement with the players expires after the 2010-11 season although the union reserves the right to reopen after the fourth season, 2008-09. But one has to wonder why the union would want to. Look no further than Kimmo Timonen, who signed a six-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers that will pay him $6.3 million a season.
Just three years removed from a lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, NHL players next season will likely earn more in average salary than they did before the lockout.
The salary cap, meanwhile, continues to rise at a rapid pace. From the original $39 million in 2005-06 to $44 million this past season, next year's figure will run between $48 million to just over $50 million.
As stipulated in the CBA, a 5 percent "inflator" automatically gets tacked on top of the figure that the league and union accountants calculate from hockey-related revenues of over $2.1 billion -- unless the NHLPA and NHL agree to do otherwise.
Last summer both sides agreed to 0 percent inflation instead of 5 percent as the union worried about having to pay back owners in escrow payments if they earned more than their allotted share.
The bottom line is that players cannot eat up more than 55 percent of revenues next season.
Without the 5 percent inflator, the salary cap would stand at a little more than $48 million next season. If the player reps vote to keep the inflator, then the cap will likely stand at more than $50 million.