NHLPA’s Donald Fehr explains ‘fine line’ with positive COVID-19 tests

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr joined Sid and Donnovan to discuss the successful negotiations with the NHL and the return to play plan, and some of the challenges that came along with social distancing throughout.

More than 40 years of experience couldn’t have prepared NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr for something like this.

As the NHL and NHLPA chipped away for months — sometimes for “14 or more hours a day” — on the recently-extended collective bargaining agreement, Fehr faced a new reality in negotiation.

Face-to-face meetings turned to Zoom calls. One-on-one interactions were no longer practical. Players and agents were asking valid questions that simply did not have answers.

“I can tell you what I told the players more than once, and that is that this was unlike anything I’ve been through,” Fehr said Monday during an appearance on Tim & Sid.

Included in the fallout of the parties’ memorandum of understanding is that the NHL will oversee the announcement of positive COVID-19 results — and withhold player and team identities in the interest of privacy.

So far, while some MLB, NBA and NFL athletes have publicized their positive COVID-19 results, Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews is the lone NHLer to make that acknowledgement.

When asked about the importance of ensuring player privacy, Fehr cited how much we still don’t know about the virus and how it’s handled.

“It’s important because rumours can run crazy,” he said. “And very often you don’t know what the results are right away. Plus the fact that as a general rule in the United States and in Canada, personal medical information is kept confidential.

“So what you’re doing is trying to walk a fine line, trying to engage in a balancing act, if you will, between very real and legitimate privacy and health concerns on the one hand and the impetus to explain to fans what you’re doing on the other.”

That fine line is important to note, because withheld information allows minds to wander. If players are missing from training camp — which opened Monday for the 24 remaining teams — speculation is bound to stir.

But ultimately, privacy is paramount for the NHL and NHLPA. So as they continue moving through uncharted territory, that’s the way it’ll be.

“The fact that we’re in the situation no one’s ever been in — at least not within the lifetime of anyone that’s around now — makes it more complicated and you’re feeling your way,” Fehr said. “We’re all trying to do the best we can.”

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