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Federal mediators join NHL labor dispute

WASHINGTON -- The National Hockey League's players union and owners have agreed to bring in mediators in a bid to end a lockout that has kept the season from starting.

The mediation will be nonbinding but the hope is that the third party will help get the two sides taking part again in meaningful talks on reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.

“I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement,” federal mediation director George Cohen said in a statement on Monday.

“With the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under ou

r auspices.”

Cohen said he has assigned deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh and director of mediation services John Sweeney as the mediators.

NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr welcomed the mediators.

“The NHLPA has agreed to the addition of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to our ongoing negotiations,” Fehr said. “We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners.”

Mediation was also part of the 2004-05 lockout when the NHL missed its entire season because of a labor dispute.

The NHL had been scheduled to open its regular season on Nov. 2. The current lockout has already caused the cancellation of 422 regular-season games as well as the outdoor Winter Classic game and the All-Star contest.

The NHL and NHLPA haven't met since last week, when the union put forth a proposal that commissioner Gary Bettman said the league wasn't willing to accept.

They are expected to get back together, possibly later this week. Canadian media reported that a meeting is likely scheduled for Wednesday but all sides are keeping the location a secret.

The league and union have both proposed a 50-50 split of revenues, with the NHL offering US$211 million in additional deferred payments to help ease the transition. The NHLPA has asked for an additional US$182 million.

The labor dispute is now in its 10th week and has forced Bettman to cancel all games through Dec. 15.

Canadian television analyst and former Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry said he is losing hope the season can be saved.

“If I'm betting, I'd say no (NHL season),” Cherry told Canadian broadcaster CBC.

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