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Andrew Ference thinks the NHLPA has come a long way

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference [1], who was present for the negotiations that led to the NHL [2] and NHLPA’s new collective bargaining agreement, had a few interesting things to say over the course of the day Monday regarding how far the NHLPA has come as a union.

Making an appearance with Dennis & Callahan, Ference called hiring Donald Fehr to replace Paul Kelly “the smartest thing we’ve ever done,” but added, “Obviously I’m biased because I helped get rid of [Kelly].” Kelly was fired in 2009 amidst chatter that his play-at-all-costs line of thinking would hurt the players in CBA negotiations.

Then, following Monday’s informal skate at Agganis Arena, Ference was asked whether he felt Kelly would have gotten the players the same deal that Fehr did this weekend.

“No,” Ference said, straight-faced. “We’d be playing, I’m sure. I’m sure we wouldn’t have missed as much hockey and the league would have been salivating. That’s the blunt answer.”

Ference called Fehr “essential” and the “foundation of our entire union.” He said that Fehr’s presence as executive director strengthened the union where he felt it was weaker in the past, including the 2004-05 lockout (which had Bob Goodenow as the NHLPA executive director).

“Across the whole league, one of the most impressive things when you talked to guys was that it wasn’t just about keeping guys quiet — people actually believed in what we were doing,” Ference said. “That’s probably the biggest change from the last lockout, or even years past in the union. You could publicly have guys on the same page, but behind closed doors you might have different opinions. This time around, it was an extremely unified group that believed in what we were doing, and that starts from the top down.”