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).