U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh was named executive director of the NHL Players’ Association on Thursday, putting an experienced union leader and the former Boston mayor in charge at a time of growing revenues in hockey and with collective bargaining talks a few years away.
The NHLPA said its executive board with representatives from all 32 clubs unanimously approved Walsh’s appointment. Walsh will begin his new role in mid-March, succeeding longtime executive director Don Fehr, who had been in the job for more than a decade.
Walsh, 55, said in a statement that by accepting this offer he’s committing to do all he can to advocate on players’ behalf.
“My years of experience in the labor movement and in public life has taught me that the job is never about me,” Walsh said. “It’s about us. It’s about the people we serve. So I look forward to working with players and the NHLPA staff to make the NHLPA the best and most effective team we can be to advance and protect the interests of our players and their families.”
The NHLPA had been looking for a new executive director to take over for Fehr since April, when a search committee was formed to find his successor. Fehr, best known for his lengthy career running the Major League Baseball Players Association, started working for hockey’s union in December 2010 and was quickly named executive director, overseeing collective bargaining negotiations in 2013 and 2020.
Zach Hyman of the Edmonton Oilers, one of 10 players on the search committee, said the person chosen to lead the union would be “in charge of a pretty big role in shaping the future of hockey for us.”
“The process, it was good,” Hyman said. “It was a lot of interviews and a lot of meeting with different candidates and a lot of conversations with the group. It was a great process to get to meet all these great people and figure out who was going to be the best fit for us.”
That process landed on Walsh, who emerged the top candidate from a group that included former Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis and longtime NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, Mathieu Schneider.
A fan of the Bruins, Walsh showed an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport in videos posted online during his tenure from 2014 to 2021 as the Democratic mayor of Boston. But it was his labor experience that put him over the top.
“Marty is a proven leader with a strong union background,” Buffalo Sabres captain and search committee member Kyle Okposo said. “His energy and ability to connect with players were immediately evident to the search committee. These were the very qualities we were focused on throughout our search for the next executive director. We look forward to the NHLPA’s future under Marty’s leadership.”
Walsh takes over at a crucial time, amid several years of labor peace between the NHL and players and with the league projecting nearly $6 billion in revenue this season. CBA negotiations are looming with the current agreement set to expire in 2026.
Fehr’s tenure saw NHL players participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics before the league was unable to reach an agreement to send them in 2018. The league and union negotiated the completion of the 2019-20 season during the pandemic, which included a long-term CBA extension.
The NHLPA had already been looking for a successor when an investigation into the Chicago Blackhawks’ handling of a report a player was sexually assaulted by a video coach in 2010 and a subsequent interview by that player raised questions about what Fehr and others knew at the time and why they did not act. The union launched its own investigation that found Fehr was not at fault, citing instead miscommunication and misunderstanding for the lack of action.
Walsh, 55, is the first of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet secretaries to leave. He is also the latest politician to shift into sports, following someone Walsh has a close relationship with: former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who is taking over as president of the NCAA.
Under the Department of Labor’s statute, Julie Su takes over as acting Secretary.
—Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press