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The Canadian Press
11/26/2012 10:11:09 Pm

The NHL and NHL Players' Association are hoping some objective voices can help bring an end to their labour dispute.

With negotiations stalled on a new collective bargaining agreement, the sides have agreed to allow U.S. federal mediators into the process -- something they tried without success on a couple of occasions prior to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

"While we have no particular level of expectation going into this process, we welcome a new approach in trying to reach a resolution of the ongoing labour dispute at the earliest possible date," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday.

Added NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr: "We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners."

The mediation will be non-binding, meaning the sides will not be forced to go along with suggestions or recommendations made by Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney. Those mediators are scheduled to meet separately with the league and union on Wednesday.

Beckenbaugh was acting director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service during the NHL's last lockout and sat in on sessions at that time. One of those occurred just three days before commissioner Gary Bettman cancelled the entire season in February 2005.

The latest round of negotiations has seemed troubled from the start. The NHL and NHLPA haven't met since last week, when the union tabled a proposal that Bettman quickly labelled as one that left the sides "far apart."

They've managed to reach some common ground with both proposing a 50-50 split of revenues throughout the agreement, but are divided on the amount of additional payments the league will make to help ease the transition. The NHL has offered $211 million while the NHLPA asked for $393 million.

There are also a variety of rules relating to player contracts that still need to be sorted out.

Further complicating matters is the fact both sides have said their best proposal is already on the table. "Any expectation that the offer is going to get better as time goes on is not realistic," Bettman said last week.

Mediation has been used in virtually every labour dispute involving pro sports leagues in recent years.

George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, has worked with the players' associations for Major League Baseball and the NBA, and was also an adviser to the NHLPA before joining the FMCS three years ago.

Cohen mediated during the 2010 negotiations in Major League Soccer and 2011 talks in the NFL and NBA, along with this year's dispute between the NFL and its on-field officials.

In a statement, he said his organization would not comment on the schedule or status of the NHL negotiations "until further notice."

"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement," said Cohen. "At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices."

Cohen originally assigned three mediators to assist negotiations -- deputy director Beckenbaugh, director of mediation services Sweeney and commissioner Guy Serota.

But Serota was removed later in the day because of a Twitter account that may have been tampered with.

Cohen said Serota was removed because "within one hour after I issued a press release ... it has been called to my attention that there are issues involving an allegedly hacked Twitter account associated with commissioner Guy Serota."

He said Serota was removed "to immediately dispel any cloud on the mediation process, and without regard to the merits of the allegations."

The NHL lockout is now in its 11th week and has forced the league to cancel 422 regular-season games, plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and Jan. 27 all-star game in Columbus.

Bettman has said the league is losing as much as $20 million per day during the lockout.
we are doomed
It's a good thing U.S. federal mediators aren't seeking to determine right and wrong while meeting with the NHL and NHL Players' Association this week.

According to sports management professor Aubrey Kent of Temple University, both sides have a valid reason to claim that they are in the right when it comes to their ongoing labour dispute.

"For me, the whole issue comes down to perspective," Kent said Wednesday in an interview. "Players feel as though they're being bullied and strong-armed and having things taken away -- I can see that that's a legitimate perspective. Owners feel from a dollar-value perspective that the next seven years they've offered would be far more lucrative than the previous seven years were, even as good as that was.

"And if you crunch the numbers, that's actually true as well."

No wonder the sides remain so entrenched in their positions.

They met separately with mediators Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney on Wednesday afternoon at an undisclosed location -- something Kent didn't anticipate would result in a "seismic" shift in perspective from either side. The non-binding sessions were intended to try and help the sides find some common ground.

The last move at the bargaining table came from the NHLPA, which presented a new offer last week that moved within $182 million of the league over a five-year deal. Despite that, commissioner Gary Bettman said they remained "far apart."

One reason for the gap is the clause in the proposal that stated the players' share couldn't go down from year to year -- a mechanism meant to protect them in the event revenues fall. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said last week that it was a good tradeoff since the players' share would drop from 57 per cent to 50 per cent in the new deal, but Kent doesn't believe the NHL would ever accept those terms.

"I know why the players would offer that, (but) in principle it doesn't seem like it's a deal that anyone in their right mind would accept -- where you get half of everything that grows and you don't take any risk on it not growing," he said.

The league and union must also find agreement on rules governing player contracts and the amount paid outside of the system by the NHL to ease the transition. The NHL has previously offered $211 million (the NHLPA is seeking $393 million), but Bettman has hinted that the offer won't remain on the table much longer.

Losses are piling up for everyone associated with the lockout. Players are scheduled to miss their fourth paycheques on Friday while owners have already seen two months worth of games go by the wayside.

The work stoppage comes at a time when NHL franchise values have never been higher, with the annual Forbes rankings released Wednesday seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs become the first team to be worth $1 billion. In all, 20 of the league's 30 teams were valued at $200 million or higher.

Despite that, the NHL and NHLPA have produced little during months of negotiations.

"Both sides feel they can get a better deal by waiting it out, but my view is that time only helps owners in these negotiations," said Kent. "And it's not just in this particular negotiation, but in any labour dispute. Employees are always at a disadvantage because salary lost is never regained.

"Whereas owners were there before the players and they'll be there after the players and they have plenty of time to make up anything that is lost."

Regular-season games have already been wiped out through Dec. 14 and there isn't much time remaining to strike a deal that would see the puck dropped immediately afterwards. In fact, it's conceivable another 10 days could pass before formal talks resume because key negotiators have full agendas next week.

The league's board of governors is set to gather in New York on Dec. 5 while representatives from both sides are scheduled to attend Quebec Labour Board hearings in Montreal on Dec. 6-7.

In other words, a quick resolution doesn't appear to be in sight.

"While the hockey fan really feels as though this is situation critical, the reality is it's just the end of November," said Kent. "With escrow cheques that have been paying in and the reality that the fall part of the season, especially in the U.S., is a fairly low yield revenue season for the hockey teams ... neither side has felt any intense pain yet.

"The real litmus test of how strongly the positions are being held as we creep towards Christmas, as we creep into the new year. That's an unfortunate reality but I think it was one that both sides were very prepared for going into this."
I really think the NHL and NHLPA missed the boat, they should have just gone with a mortician rather than a mediator as this season is dead, it should be put 6 feet under!!!! Then again they probably would argue over who should pay the mortician!!! laugh.gif laugh.gif

Does anybody else see how sad, pathetic, and what a waste of money/time this is? It is how you act when you are rich I guess.

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