The NHL lockout has taken a completely different direction with the agreement to have federal mediators weigh-in on meetings.
Following a week of players threatening the league with NHLPA decertification, the NHL and NHLPA have indeed agreed upon something in the lockout.. to have a third, arbitrary party become involved in negotiations in order to reach a new deal before it’s too late.
George Cohen is the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He’s worked with the MLB, NBA, and their respective player’s associations, along with the recent NFL officials who went on strike. He declined to comment on the details of the NHL lockout situation until further notice.
“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,” said Cohen. “At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices.”
This has to be a positive side for both camps in terms of reaching a new deal. The two sides left the last meeting, once again, frustrated and seemingly unwilling to cooperate with the other. But despite the agreement to having a mediator, optimism still seems to be on short supply as we await the next meeting.
“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 labour dispute at the earliest possible date,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Monday.
More than lack of optimism, animosity still remains between the two sides and their views on specifics.
Former Toronto Maple Leaf, now with the Chicago Blackhawks, Jamal Mayers responded to TSN’s Darren Dreger’s twitter post which stated the owners won’t or can’t concede anymore than they already have.
“Owners can’t give anymore? What have they given? We’re conceding in every area and expected to keep giving?” said Mayers. “Share we’ve gone from 57-50, Make Whole they signed contracts, system issues? We offered solution to back diving they don’t need other issues. Let managers manage. Pension would be at our cost they still say no…so many more issues they have not given anything just take take take! Their biggest complaint is us not using the same language. We did last Wednesday and they shoot it down in 2hrs? $182 M over 5 yrs? Makes sense?”
Mayers concluded the rant by saying “ALL players are now willing to dig in.”
The leading problem does in fact appear to be that of the “Make Whole” provision. The owners offered a total of $211 to the players, whereas the players lowered their demands to $393 million over 5 years. Gary Bettman left the meeting with his ever echoed response throughout the lockout, “we’re still far apart.”
NHL lockout pessimists will be quick to point out that the league went through a similar process just before the 2004-05 season was cancelled. They are correct. Before the last lockout, the league had federal mediators participate in bargaining talks, but the two sides were not forced to concede to recommendations from the third party. The current process is no different.
However, optimism can still be found in this effort, given the tone between players and owners last week after another failed NHLPA proposal. Unfortunately for the owners, the players are taking significant concessions in major areas, namely revenue sharing and contract rules. This will likely mean the mediator is going to swing towards the current demands of the players, because of all the concessions taken. This might explain NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr’s slightly enthusiastic statement.
“We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners.”
On the other hand, this could very well translate into, as happened eight years ago, another full-season lockout. If the owners don’t like the way the negotiations are going, especially if the mediator begins to side with the players on key aspects of the new deal, they likely won’t hesitate to end the season entirely.
The lockout is into its 11th week, 422 regular season games have been cancelled, along with the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game. According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league is losing around $20 million per day, as a result of the lockout. Needless to say, time is running out.
With the direction the negotiations were headed last week, having a mediating party can only improve matters, right?