On Tuesday we learnt that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to meet on Wednesday in an undisclosed location with hopes that a new CBA can be ironed out. Later in the day Tuesday it was reported that the same two mediators who sat in on the negotiations some two weeks ago were asked to rejoin the meetings Tuesday to try and bridge the gap that remains at large between the two sides. It was the NHLPA who asked to have the mediators present.
But can a second round of mediation really help at this point? After all, back in 2004 the league and player’s union had three different rounds of mediation and look where that season ended up; in the toilet. The way things are going this year, Gary Bettman already has a firm grip on the handle and is threatening to pull the lever.
It’s hard to believe that having U.S. federal mediators Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney rejoin the meetings will encourage either side to concede any more than what they’ve already proposed. Numerous times we’ve heard from the league that their last offer was their final one, something they’ve threatened twice before.
Then there is the player’s side who continue to say they’ve given all they can give, only to regroup and come up with a proposal that inches closer to a deal. All they need is the owners to agree on some terms and voila, a CBA could be in place.
So why the mediators? If the owners and the player’s union are truly that close to a new deal then there should be no need to have Beckenbaugh and Sweeney join the meetings. After two days of meetings involving them two weeks ago the two sides agreed that having them involved didn’t help matters any and if they’re as close as Donald Fehr says they are then the authorities should be able to figure it out from here.
There is the thought that what Fehr believes is close to a deal is extremely confusing and different than what Bettman and his posse believe to be a skeleton of a new CBA.
If talks should break off again then it’s worth asking if the mediators should be invited back at all. Given how much progress the group of owners and players made last week, it’s hard not think that’s the next best move; at least to surge things ahead again before turning it over to Bettman and Fehr, knowing that they could screw it up again.
Either way, the best path forward appears to be without the mediators involved. Unless of course we hear how well the negotiations go on Wednesday and that a deal is pending thanks to the negotiators, that would change the landscape dramatically. But if we’ve learnt anything through 87 days of the lockout is that anything can happen or….not happen.