NHL lockout: Mediators to join labor talks; Daly expects meeting this week

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

NHLLockout

The next time you hear about the NHL and NHLPA meeting to discuss the CBA, they will have help in the form of mediators.

After weeks of people hoping -- begging! -- for the league and the union to seek some mediators to join the mix, it's finally going to happen. The director of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, George Cohen, said on Monday that he has been in talks with the sides and will be getting involved. The news was first reported by Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com and the Sporting News' Jesse Spector.

Cohen and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service released the following statement in its release on the announcement.

"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.

"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."

With that, the hockey world gave out a huge sigh of relief. Finally, somebody can step in and talk some sense into these guys!

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had the following statement to make to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo.

"The FMCS reached out to both sides independently, and apparently we both agreed that we are prepared to explore the process. I have no level of expectation at this point. We'll see how it goes and perhaps something good will come of it."

If there was a statement from one side, of course there was a statement from the other. Here's what Donald Fehr had to say from the union's side.

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

This news is definitely exciting, something to get your hopes up. But when will we actually see the mediated sessions begin? Daly expects things to pick back up very soon. Here's what he wrote to the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch:

"I would expect there will be a meeting this week. Don't have anything set yet."

More specifically, that first mediated talk is expected to come on Wednesday.

Talks between the NHL and the NHLPA broke off after the owners rejected the first full proposal from the players last week in New York, and no plans were made to meet again. Since then, the league canceled another two weeks of the regular season and nixed the All-Star Game set for Columbus. The next meeting will be the first since all of that went down.

Considering we're at a point where both sides have said they are done making proposals, it seems like it's about time to start negotiating the differences down and having some unbiased ears to lend their take. In fact, it feels like it's way past time as the NHLPA mulls over decertification.

Of course, it didn't help a whole lot in 2004-05, when mediators couldn't save that season from being canceled. This isn't like arbitration, where the sides agree to accept the decision from the mediators. It's non-binding, so they can remain at an impasse after the mediated sessions, too. The design, though, is to hopefully help them find the middle ground on all of this ... if there is any to be found.

Considering they aren't far apart on the economic side of things ($182 million, according to the NHLPA), perhaps mediators can come in and bridge the gap and bring them closer to a deal. Settling the contract issues might be a tougher sell. Still, this is the greatest reason for hope in some time.

At this point, adding mediators to the mix can't really hurt much. It's certainly worth a shot. If it pays dividends, then it's all the better and we can get hockey back in a rink near you.

We're starting to get to the point of the nitty gritty with December right around the corner. For the first time in a long time, hockey fans can have hope. Just keep your fingers crossed that the mediators aren't thrown out as soon as they step in the room.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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