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November 29, 2012

Mediators fail to help in NHL labor fight

NEW YORK — The NHL, the players' association and now even federal mediators agree on one thing: The bickering sides are nowhere near a deal that would put hockey back on the ice.

The league and the union wrapped up two days of talks Thursday in New Jersey, with help from mediators, but moved no closer to a solution to save the season that has already been delayed and shortened.

Two members from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service joined the discussions on Wednesday and Thursday but couldn't bring the sides any closer.

"After spending several hours with both sides over two days, the presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "We are disappointed that the mediation process was not successful."

Players' association executive director Donald Fehr echoed Daly's remarks Thursday night without offering insight where the process might head next.

"This afternoon, the mediators informed the parties that they did not think it was productive to continue the discussions further today," Fehr said in a statement. "The mediators indicated that they would stay in contact with the league and the NHLPA, and would call the parties back together when they thought the time was right."

The bottom line is that, 75 days into the owners' lockout of players, there is no end in sight. The lockout has already forced the cancellation of games through Dec. 14, the New Year's Day Winter Classic, and the All-Star weekend in January.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered the union a meeting that would consist of only owners and players — without the presence of leaders on both sides of the dispute — Daly told The Associated Press in an email. He added that the union was considering the proposal and would get back to the league.

"We will be discussing all matters regarding the last two days of mediation as well as potential next steps with the Executive Board and Negotiating Committee," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said.

After agreeing to help from mediators Monday, the league and the union returned to the bargaining table on Wednesday for their first face-to-face talks in a week. Those discussions lasted for about six hours.

They met again Thursday morning until late afternoon before breaking off.

The next sure thing on the hockey calendar is the NHL board of governors, scheduled next Wednesday in New York. Meanwhile, the players could seek to decertify the union and challenge the lockout in court.

Either way, the sides are getting close to losing another season to labor strife. The NHL is already the only major North American sports league to cancel a season because of such a dispute — when the 2004-05 schedule was wiped out.

Mediation didn't work back then, either, though the collective bargaining agreement that recently expired was ultimately hammered out. Mediators were summoned in February, shortly before the season was canceled.

In discussions last week, the players' association made a new comprehensive proposal that was quickly rejected by the NHL.

George Cohen, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director, assigned deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh and director of mediation services John Sweeney to the negotiations on Monday.

Last week, Fehr said the sides were $182 million apart on a five-year deal, which comes to $1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.

The NHL wants to increase eligibility for free agency to 28 years of age or eight seasons of service, up from 27 years or seven seasons. The league has also proposed adding a year of service for salary arbitration eligibility, hiking it from 1-4 to 2-5 years of service, depending on the age a player signs.

On Oct. 16, the NHL proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, down from the players' 57 percent portion of $3.3 billion last season. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players' share over the halfway mark at the start of the next deal, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.

Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.

Owners want a seven-year deal, which the union says is too long because less than half the current players will be active by the last season.

 

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