Mediators will try to end NHL labor war

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been heavily criticized during the NHL lockout. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

With negotiations at a standstill, the NHL and the players’ union are turning to federal mediators to help end their labor dispute.

The mediation is non-binding.

"Both sides are prepared to try a new approach,” said Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Before getting your hopes up, remember this: Mediation was also used during the 2004-05 lockout, which ended with the entire season canceled.

On a positive note, the Sporting News reported that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), which is involved in this labor dispute, has had an 85 to 87 percent success rate in its cases in each of the last four years.

George Cohen, director of FMCS, issued the following statement about his role:

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. At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices. I have assigned Deputy Director Scot L. Beckenbaugh, director of Mediation Services John Sweeney, and Commissioner Guy Serota to serve as the mediators.  (A few hours later, Serota was removed from the case because of controversy over his Twitter account, which he said was hacked.)

Due to the extreme sensitivity of these negotiations and consistent with the FMCS’s long-standing practice, the Agency will refrain from any public comment concerning the future schedule and/or the status of the negotiations until further notice.

The mediators, who will attend an NHL/NHLPA meeting on Wednesday, will comb through numbers that don’t compute.

The NHL says it is losing $18 million to $20 million a day in its labor dispute, which has caused the season to be canceled through Dec. 14. Yet, it is refusing to agree to a plan that would cost about $20,000 per game per team to erase those losses - and start earning revenue.

Where’s the logic in that?

“Maybe they have another motivation,” Steve Fehr, special counsel to the players’ union, said the other day.

Fehr didn’t elaborate, but he seemed to be hinting that the NHL wants to break the union.

On Monday, the lockout reached its 72d day.

Last Wednesday, the league rejected the NHLPA’s “make whole” offer. That money goes toward guaranteeing the players’ contracts.

The NHL offered $211 million, while the NHLPA has asked for $393 million. If you take the difference _ $182 million _ and divide it by 30 teams and spread it over five years, it comes to $1.2 million per team.

Broken down further, the $1.2 million would cost teams $20,000 per game, assuming 60 games are played this season.

Daly said it was “too simplistic” to say the labor woes were wrapped around the “make whole” provision. He said there were many other “critical issues” that were “separating the parties.”

Issues such as length of contracts, free agency and, apparently, the salary cap. The players do not want it to drop below $67.25 million at any point during the five year agreement.

The mediators are federal employees and are not paid by the NHL or the NHLPA. An employee with the mediation service said that all three mediators do not necessarily have to all be at the bargaining table, adding that they will abide by whatever makes both sides comfortable.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.