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The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS) yesterday announced that the NHL and NHLPA have "agreed to mediation in an effort to break the stalemate in negotiations between the two sides," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. Three mediators "will be involved in the negotiations," including Deputy Dir Scot Beckenbaugh and Dir of Mediation Services John Sweeney. Commissioner Guy Serota was "originally assigned to the talks," but FMCS Dir George Cohen announced Serota had been removed late yesterday because of "off-color comments made on a Twitter account with Serota’s name." Beckenbaugh "served as a mediator" during the '04-05 NHL lockout. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an e-mail wrote, "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 labor dispute at the earliest possible date." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr in a statement said that the union "looked forward to the mediators’ involvement." NHL Senior VP/PR & Media Gary Meagher said that "no negotiating sessions were scheduled" as of yesterday afternoon. The presence of federal mediators was "credited with helping to bring about settlements in the NFL and NBA lockouts last year, but mediation did not lead to a successful resolution" of the '04-05 NHL lockout. Cohen "will not take part in the mediation" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/27). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cited a source as saying that the "first meeting will be Wednesday." NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr two weeks ago said that mediation "would be a good option." Sources said that the NHL has been "less keen on it ... until it felt it was warranted" (ESPN.com, 11/26).
CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC: In Raleigh, Chip Alexander writes mediation is "not arbitration" and that "nothing is binding." However, given the "differences between the league and the union over CBA issues, mediators could offer advise and help foster a compromise on such contentious issues" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 11/27). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote since it has "become clear that the NHL and NHLPA are incapable of hammering out a deal on their own, it does not hurt them to try" mediation (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/26). Jets D Ron Hainsey last night in a text message wrote, "I'm not sure if going into mediation will solve this or not. But it will be a new perspective injected into this, with the intent of seeing if they can bring us closer together. I think it is an avenue worth a shot" (WINNIPEG SUN, 11/27). Blackhawks D Steve Montador: "I'm glad there's mediation in play right now and I hope it is taken seriously. Beyond that, it just won't matter. There's no power the mediators have to enforce anything, so I hope it helps to engage the NHL in negotiations" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/27). Oilers LW Ryan Smyth: "I wish they had done it sooner. Maybe this will force things along. I'm sick of not playing hockey" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 11/27). However, CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said mediation is "not relevant for one simple reason." Ratto: "The sides are not close enough to know what the common ground is because their argument is philosophical. ... They're still miles apart” ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 11/26).
DECERTIFYING STILL AN OPTION: The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle cites sources on the players' side as saying that dissolving the union "remains in play if negotiations continue to falter, even if a few days of mediation delays the legal manoeuvrings that would make that possible" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/27). Panthers RW George Parros yesterday confirmed that the "possibility of decertifying the union is on the table." He said, "It's something we can't fool around with. It's something we have to be prepared to see to the end even though that may not be the case. We're aware that it is a serious move and one that's going to take some long consideration. You have to tread lightly" (OTTAWASUN.com, 11/26). Canucks G Cory Schneider said the owners "don't take us seriously and don't have any motivation to negotiate and do some give and take to make it happen." Schneider: "One of the only options we have to apply a little pressure on them and show we're serious is to decertify. ... Decertification is not something you do half-heartedly. You can't start to decertify in hopes that you're going to get a deal done. If it doesn't, you still have to push forward with it. Once the wheels are in motion, there's no stopping. It's a very serious decision and that's why we're a little reluctant to charge ahead without thinking" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 11/27). In Columbus, Michael Arace notes the players "have not yet started the federal decertification process, which can take up to two months." Given this time frame, a "step down this path might mean killing off the rest of the 2012-13 season" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/27).
SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes if talks are "to get anywhere, then somebody is going to have to blink -- again -- after discussions broke down when the league turned down" the union's most recent proposal last Wednesday in N.Y. Sources said that if the two sides "just sat down for a 'give-and-take' negotiation session, they aren't far apart." But they have to "get two major issues cleared up if they're going to be able to get the basis of a deal in place." That includes the "Make Whole" provision and a "clear 50-50 split of revenues" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/27). Lightning RW Martin St. Louis said he is "baffled" by the current state of negotiations. He said of the union's recent proposal over a five-year deal, "Do the math. Thirty teams, it's not that much" (TAMPABAY.com, 11/26).
WHO'S REALLY BEHIND THE LOCKOUT? In Illinois, Barry Rozner writes the reason there is no deal yet is that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "has made promises he can’t keep." If he "doesn’t keep them and loses half an NHL season -- or more -- in the process, he will be out of a job that pays him $8 million a year." That is why there has been "little negotiation from the NHL." Bettman is "holding up the game to save himself, and one imagines he’s still convincing a small group of men that he can squeeze more from the players." That small group "of owners, in turn, is keeping the arenas silent" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 11/27). Canucks D Dan Hamhuis yesterday wondered "whether the owners truly care about the game." He said, "They say they care about the game and the fans and stuff but their actions are speaking a lot louder than their words right now. For people who follow it closely, you'll see one side is negotiating and the other side is not" (VANCOUVER SUN, 11/27). In Vancouver, Iain MacIntyre writes under the header, "Bettman Is Wrong Target For Players' Anger." Bettman will continue to be the "lightning rod for hostility over the owners' lockout," but it is "mystifying and exasperating that in the third month of the lockout players continue to target Bettman almost exclusively, instead of taking aim at the 30 owners who drive this dispute through their top employee." Canucks C Henrik Sedin said of Bettman, "He's got 30 owners hiding behind him. The way people are saying some things about him or tweeting about him, I think that's wrong. He's working for someone. I don't think he's running the agenda by himself." However, Canucks D Kevin Bieksa "disputes the notion that Bettman is merely employed to do the bidding of owners like any other corporate chieftain who answers to a board of directors." Bieksa said, "I don't think Gary takes orders from anyone" (VANCOUVER SUN, 11/27).
OPINION PAGES: In DC, Stephen Whyno noted reaction to Capitals D Roman Hamrlik's "criticism of Donald Fehr and the NHL players' course during the lockout has been far and wide." Over the weekend, Devils G Martin Brodeur called it a “sign of weakness” from the NHLPA's perspective. Brodeur: “Everybody has their own way of coping with things, but I think in the situation that we're in and the hard work that people are putting in, I think it's got to be (handled) internally." He added, "I think it's your duty as a player to get yourself informed. And then if you don't, you should just not talk about it" (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 11/26). Capitals RW Alex Ovechkin said, "I know a couple guys (are) pissed off and they say bad things, but you know we stick together and we're not gonna listen to those guys. Of course everybody wants to play but we have to stick together" (CSNWASHINGTON.com, 11/26). But in DC, Dan Daly writes, "If anybody has a right to speak his mind about hockey's sorry state of affairs, it's Roman Hamrlik." It was "just nice to get a few moments of unguarded honesty from somebody before Fehr and Bettman resumed their smoke-blowing" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/27). CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits wrote, "Are there some breaks in the company line? Absolutely." Hamrlik "removed all doubt if that's the case or not." But the question is "how many, and right now it appears to just be a few cracks, not a hole in the floor" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/26).
TIME TO STAY QUIET: THE HOCKEY NEWS’ Ken Campbell noted NHLPA members have been “free to speak their minds whenever they wish with the blessing of their leadership,” and the results “have been a disaster.” Not only are “schisms beginning to form, the players are coming across as a bunch of vindictive ingrates.” The players are “embarrassing themselves more with every passing day.” Campbell: “I’ve got to think there are a lot of people out there who would wish the players would just shut their cake holes. They’re certainly not doing anything to help the process or themselves, and they’re really, really not doing anything positive to engender support from the fan base.” He added, “Perhaps it might be time for the NHLPA leadership to suggest its members keep quiet. At the very least, toning down the rhetoric would be a step in the right direction” (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/26).
MLS Galaxy MF David Beckham "may be on his way out," but Commissioner Don Garber was clear during yesterday's state of the league conference call that the league is "in a far different place than it was back when the English icon signed nearly six years ago," according to Brian Straus of SPORTING NEWS. Garber said, "We needed David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility. We don't need anything today." Garber continued, "I believe we had 12 teams in the league. We had not yet had the television relationships that we have today. We had probably half the number of soccer(-specific) stadiums and the league was just more immature." Garber noted there was "still a lot of work to do to figure out" how Beckham's ownership option "gets exercised." Garber confirmed that Beckham "will not be able to purchase an interest in the expansion club planned" for N.Y. Garber: "There is a possibility for him to work with the league office to find ways to transfer that option into an opportunity in LA." Garber also noted that the "34-game regular season and playoff format (including an MLS Cup final at the site of the participant with the better record) will remain in place next year." The one change will be "an earlier start." After kicking off on March 10 this season, MLS "will open its 18th season on March 2, its earliest launch ever." Garber "promised that MLS 'will continue to invest massive amounts of money' in player development and acknowledged Monday that the league’s investment to this point, which has reached $20 million per year, 'has not yet paid off'" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/26).
MARKETING MACHINE: Garber said that Beckham "did everything" MLS asked of him to "grow football" in the U.S. The AP's Ronald Blum notes Beckham "left Real Madrid in 2007 to sign a $32.5 million, five-year deal with the Galaxy," he said then that he "wanted to win and increase the league’s popularity both domestically and abroad." Garber said, "I don’t think anybody would doubt that he has overdelivered on every one of those measures. There’s arguably not a soccer fan on this planet that doesn’t know the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and David played a significant role in helping us make that happen" (AP, 11/27). In L.A., Phil Collin writes of Beckham, "As polarizing as a world icon can sometimes be, even critics won't be able to deny that soccer in America has been boosted beyond what many thought was attainable." But the "most interesting aspect of Beckham's overall legacy ... won't be able to be measured for years." Galaxy VP Chris Klein said, "If you look at David and his time here, his influence has spanned everything that our league touches, from commercially what our league looks like, to ticket sales, to soccer-specific stadiums, to designated players being more interested in our league" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 11/27). In Miami, Michelle Kaufman wrote Beckham "leaves the league stronger than he found it, and he no doubt made a significant contribution to that growth." His "international name recognition and sex appeal, and his genuine commitment to raise the profile of American soccer, left an indelible mark." He did "make a difference. A big difference. A difference that surely was worth the $32.5 million investment." Kaufman: "Yes, Becks was worth every penny" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/25).
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND: Garber yesterday said MLS is "at the finish line" in talks with Queens for a stadium to house the league's 20th team. In N.Y., Bill Price reports that team "could be the Cosmos," which has reportedly offered Beckham a role "as both a player and executive." A source yesterday said that "while Beckham could not be on an MLS board, the Cosmos could get around that by appointing him as an executive." A Cosmos source said, "David has confirmed his interest, and we expect an announcement before Christmas" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/27). Cosmos Dir of Soccer Eric Cantona said his aim was to make the club "the best team in the US, in the world." Cantona: "Our ambition is to have the best team in the country, with most of the players coming from the (youth) academy and help the country win the World Cup one day." Cantona, who will "work closely with former US World Cup star Cobi Jones on all football-related matters," said that the club and N.Y. "had revived his interest in the game he left to pursue other avenues and interest, including acting and politics" (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 11/26). Garber said of a potential Queens club, "Many potential ownership groups have expressed interest." He declined to name the suitors, but said MLS hopes to have confirmation of terms with the city of N.Y. "in the near future" for a 10-acre site in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal). Garber said that MLS "hopes to have the team start play in 2016." Garber said, "There are 13 million people in this city. Many of them love the game. We need to give them all an opportunity to stop for a moment and pay attention to Major League Soccer." Garber also noted that the "Red Bulls do not have the right to block a second team in the market." He said, "I’m not at all concerned about [Red Bulls GM Jerome de Bontin's] point of view. I think it’s just part of being new. We’ve had the full support of Red Bulls ownership." Garber said that possibilities for expansion beyond N.Y. "include Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Minneapolis." The AP's Blum noted MLS is "negotiating with the Mets to use the parking lots adjacent to Citi Field" (AP, 11/26).
RIVALRY IN THE MAKING? In N.Y., Brian Lewis noted former Red Bulls GM Erik Soler used to "tout the idea that rivalries and local derby games always were the lifeblood of soccer." Garber said, "Once he [de Bontin] has a greater understanding, he'll be as supportive as other GMs." Garber added that he "hadn't heard about reports claiming Red Bull might sell off its team" (NYPOST.com, 11/26).
STADIUM UPDATES: Garber said of a potential new stadium for DC United, "I believe there is new momentum in DC. There seems to be a more focused approach with (partner) Jason Levien both with local government but also with local developers who have access to land. Both (MLS President) Mark Abbott and I have been in discussions the last week with the holder of that land." Garber said of the Revolution finding a new venue, "The Kraft family continues to be focused on trying to find a soccer stadium solution downtown. … We are looking for public support up in that area because of the cost of developing a project there." On potential expansion, Garber said, "We need to be south of Washington, D.C. It isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. And it’s probably a matter of where. We continue to believe Florida needs an MLS team. At some point, I think, it would make sense for a team in Miami. I don’t know when that is; it’s certainly not now" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/26). In Columbus, Adam Jardy notes MLS "continues to assist Hunt Sports Group in its efforts to find local investors for the Crew." But Garber said that there is "no timetable to transfer ownership." Garber said, "There is absolutely no timetable for the Hunts to leave Major League Soccer. Without the Hunts, there is no Major League Soccer. We’re working with them to support them in any and every way that we can in Columbus." Jardy notes the Crew's "search for more local investors has been largely fruitless." Garber said that should the Hunts be "unable to sell the team to local investors ... there are no plans to explore relocation options" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 11/27).
TIME TO MAKE A MOVE: Garber said Toronto FC is looking to make some "bold moves" to improve the product on the field. The CP's Neil Davidson noted TFC "missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year since joining the league." But Garber said that he "has faith in the new ownership structure of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment as well as president Tom Anselmi." Garber: "It certainly pains us a bit. We look back at what was such an incredible story in '07, that clearly was one of the launching pads for the development of what we call MLS 2.0. And to see that not continue to the level it was in the early years is disappointing." Garber "did not detail the planned moves but suggested they might be imminent." He was "more positive about Montreal, calling the expansion Impact 'an instant success.'" Garber said, "This has been a great expansion move for us. We're proud of our three clubs in Canada" (CP, 11/26).
THE RIGHT CHOICE: In DC, Steven Goff noted the decision this year to shift from a neutral MLS Cup site to a team venue "was the right one: The game deserves an impassioned audience for the purposes of stadium atmosphere and TV images." The neutral-site policy "worked in most cases: Three 'hosts' happened to advance to the final in 16 years." But MLS "also took a public relations hit with no-shows, early departures and general indifference in places such as Dallas and Toronto." The predetermined venue "had run its course" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/26).
MLB players “expect to discuss changes to the disciplinary portion of the game's drug-testing program when the union holds its annual executive board meetings” in N.Y. this week, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. Sources said that “any proposed changes from the players' association's side are likely to focus more on ensuring that offenders get caught than increasing the penalties for failed tests.” Royals P Jeremy Guthrie and Dodgers P Chris Capuano, who also serve as MLBPA player reps on their respective teams, said that they think MLB's joint drug prevention and treatment program is “having the desired effect as a deterrent to performance-enhancing drug use.” Blue Jays LF Melky Cabrera, A’s P Bartolo Colon and Padres C Yasmani Grandal have tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone and received 50-game suspensions since August. Crasnick noted under the rules of MLB's testing program, representatives from the MLBPA and the commissioner's office “meet annually with program administrators, medical authorities and representatives from the company that collects player samples to discuss potential changes and improvements, which must then be collectively bargained.” Some players and union officials have “privately expressed concerns that no distinction is drawn between players who knowingly cheat to beat the system -- as Cabrera did -- and others who test positive because of a mistake or a tainted supplement.” Capuano said that he “doesn't see widespread sentiment among players for longer suspensions -- in part because the stigma of getting caught has already prompted players to be much more careful than they've been in the past” (ESPN.com, 11/26).
PIGSKIN AND POLITICS: ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter cited a source as saying that the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight & Government Reform will “convene a hearing next week to examine the science behind HGH testing and the health concerns surrounding its use.” The hearing will “feature experts and individuals concerned about the dangers of performance-enhancing substances.” The NFLPA has “cited the inadequacy of HGH testing as a reason for holding up implementation of a testing regime in the NFL.” The hearing will “seek opinions on the subject.” The source said that the hearing is “being held because the committee is upset with the union's refusal to allow the testing” (ESPN.com, 11/26).