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Article posted: 11/26/2012 8:30 PM

News of mediation in NHL lockout nothing to get excited about

By Tim Sassone

Guess it can't hurt, right?

Looking for a way to jump start negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement that so far have gone nowhere, the NHL and NHL Players' Association agreed Monday to U.S. federal mediation to help move along the process of ending the lockout.

Don't get too excited by this news. The league and union tried mediation twice before the 2004-05 season was canceled.

"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 labor dispute at the earliest possible date," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

"We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said.

The mediation will be non-binding, meaning the sides will not be forced to go along with suggestions or recommendations made by Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney. Those mediators are scheduled to meet separately with the league and union Wednesday.

There already is speculation the owners are simply going along to buy time until the Dec. 5 Board of Governors meeting in New York.

The two sides haven't met since last week, when the union tabled a proposal that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman quickly called one that left the sides "far apart."

George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, has worked with the players' associations for Major League Baseball and the NBA, and he was also an adviser to the NHLPA before joining the FMCS three years ago.

In a statement, he said his organization would not comment on the schedule or status of the NHL negotiations "until further notice."

The NHL lockout is now in its 11th week and has forced the league to cancel 422 regular-season games, plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and Jan. 27 All-Star Game in Columbus.

The NHL and NHLPA have moved closer on contracting issues: contract-term limits; entry-level deals; arbitration and free agency. The league and union still can't agree on two major issues that have held up the talks: the "Make Whole" provision to ensure players receive all the money they are owed, and a clear 50-50 split of revenues.

Meanwhile, the players are growing more and more frustrated.

"I think a lot of guys are frustrated with the not talking," Penguins star Sidney Crosby told Pittsburgh reporters Monday. "We understand the business side, that there are negotiations and proposals going back and forth, that kind of thing.

"If we really want to get something done, I feel like we have to be there every single day, no matter what."

Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi told reporters in Detroit on Monday that he is losing hope about playing this season.

"I see us losing a year," he said.

"I think the owners, at this time, are strong-holding it and putting their foot in the sand and not budging. They want what they want, and that's plain and simple," Bertuzzi said.

"Unfortunately, it's going to take years to build back the revenue. It's going to take a long time. These people are (ticked) right now. They're not just -- 'I don't care, I'll come back,' or whatever. Fans are (ticked) now. They're getting to a point where they're not even really paying attention anymore to what's going on. They're sick and tired of hearing the same (stuff) coming out of both sides' mouths, and who can blame them?"

tsassone@dailyherald.com

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