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NHL, NHLPA To Meet With Federal Mediator This Week

The NHLPA and NHL have agreed to continue negotiations "under the auspices" of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. (FMCS)

Brendan Smialowski

Chris Johnston with the Canadian Press reported earlier this afternoon that CBA negotiations are "likely to be held this week," though a new NHL proposal (they have not responded formally to the NHLPA's latest counter) is not expected.

Now multiple media sources on Twitter are reporting that U.S. Federal mediators will be involved in negotiations moving forward. Federal Mediator George Coehn says "With the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices." [Twitter - Chris Johnston]

Cohen is also quoted as saying he's already had preliminary discussions with key parties on both sides of the proverbial aisle.

Said Bill Daly via Michael Russo of the Star Tribune: "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."

In other words, the NHL doesn't really see the point right now but will go along with it anyway.

Mediation is not arbitration. Decisions and compromises will not be forced on either party. The two must still work together and concede what they will to get a deal done.

Mediation can even complicate things further by adding a third party to the mix.

What a mediator can do is help facilitate avenues for thoughtful discussions. This is an an interesting passage from an ESPN post published a couple of weeks ago about mediation in the NFL and NBA situations and how it may have helped...

"Part of the whole thing about mediation is finding common ground, even if it's something unrelated. You can find camaraderie in anything," Boylan said. "And boy, there sure are a lot of traditions in hockey and a love for the sport. One thing leads to another and that commonality, that sure goes a long way."

A large part of Boylan's job was not just to find traction in negotiations but also to determine which lawyers worked well together and which owners and which players were helpful to the process.

And always, he encouraged them to keep talking.

Oftentimes, the two sides would stay at the same hotel, he said, and even when they met with fierce resistance, he insisted the two sides "break bread" after sessions. Whether it was joining up for dinner or grabbing a few cocktails, Boylan wanted the two sides to maintain communication.

Hockey fans will hope for the same as Christmas and the real 11th hour approach.

Cynicism, now in large supply and inarguably appropriate when all things CBA-related are discussed as the lockout approaches the three-month mark, might question the sincerity of one or both parties where a mediator is concerned. The PR war has been front and center all along, and sometimes, seemingly the main focus of either side.

Is this another attempt to exhaust every avenue of potential finger pointing when the season is officially cancelled? Is it a response by the league to de-certification talks? Is there mounting pressure from both sides on leadership to find a way? We won't know for a while, but it appears that the process will at least continue in the short term, whatever that means.

From the FMCS (Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service):Release Date: 11/26/2012:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen issued the following statement today on the ongoing labor negotiations between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association:

"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."

From the Wikipedia entry concerned the 2004-2005 NHL Lockout: "On February 13, 2005, the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service called a meeting between the two sides to negotiate a new deal. Three three days later, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially cancelled the season."

Perhaps it will go a little smoother this time around?