Martin J. Walsh’s journey from Dorchester to the Massachusetts State House, Boston City Hall, and Washington, D.C., is poised to take a turn away from politics and into sports, as multiple sources confirmed to the Globe that he’s been tapped to head the union for National Hockey League players.
Currently the US secretary of labor, who headed a union local in Boston, Walsh reportedly will be named executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, possibly sometime this week. A person close to Walsh said he has already undergone the vetting process and is expected to accept the offer. Another person close to Walsh said he has told people that he will take the job.
According to The Daily Faceoff, a Web publication that covers hockey, Walsh will draw a salary of approximately $3 million.
Donald Fehr, the 74-year-old current NHLPA executive director, is believed to be making $3.5 million a year.
Walsh, 55, makes a $235,600 salary as labor secretary, according to the US Office of Personnel Management records.
The Daily Faceoff also reported that Walsh initially turned down early feelers for the position, but that after President Biden did not select him to be his new chief of staff, he then told the search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, that he was interested.
Walsh has to receive 18 votes from the 32-member NHLPA executive board for his appointment to become official.
The NHLPA has not commented on the Walsh appointment, saying in a statement last week for example that its search committee had been “actively interviewing potential candidates” and that “while the process is getting closer to completion, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Walsh, a former Massachusetts state representative, was elected mayor of Boston in 2014 and held that position until March 2021, when Biden selected him to be labor secretary. He was confirmed by the Senate by a 68–29 vote.
As labor secretary, Walsh injected himself into last winter’s Major League Baseball labor dispute, calling both the owners and the players union to urge them to return to the table after the owners locked out the players.
The current NHL collective bargaining agreement is not due to expire until after the 2024-25 season, so Walsh is not walking into any current dispute between those sides.
Walsh’s ties to hockey run deep.
He was 7 years old in June 1975 when he was in Children’s Hospital being treated for cancer. Just before his stay there ended, the Bruins’ Bobby Orr visited the ward. As Orr stepped off the elevator, Walsh was too in awe to speak. Orr gave him a signed photograph, which still sits in Walsh’s Dorchester house.
Hockey was Walsh’s first sports love and he had season tickets with the Bruins at the age of 21. As mayor, he said, he spent some of his down time in the evenings watching hockey with his NHL package.
The Bruins also marked a personal nadir for Walsh.
He is an alcoholic, and the road to his discovering his disease began on Sunday, April 23, 1995, at a Bruins-Rangers game at the Garden.
Walsh had been drinking all weekend, he said in a Globe interview in 2017, and “I was asked to leave the Bruins game because I was so drunk. I went across the street to the Harp and started drinking. I fell asleep there, and my friends had to come take me out.”
The afternoon led to counseling and eventually inpatient treatment, with Walsh open to this day about his struggles.
As mayor, Walsh had two unsuccessful forays into sports, hitching his wagon to both the city’s 2024 Summer Olympics bid and its efforts to hold an IndyCar race in the Seaport.
And he’s no stranger to the owners’ side. In 2017, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and his three sons donated $13,000 to Walsh’s campaign committee. And while mayor, Walsh had extensive dealings with Fenway Sports Group, owners of the Red Sox and Fenway Park. In November 2020, FSG became the principal owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Walsh would be the second Massachusetts politician in recent months to jump into the sports world. Former governor Charlie Baker was named president of the NCAA in December.
Milton Valencia and Jackie Kucinich of the Globe staff contributed to this report.