(MCT) — Federal mediators swooped into a meeting between the NHL and the players’ union Wednesday and tried to steer the sides to a collective bargaining agreement.
The mediators, Scot Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney, will attempt to cut through the discord and distrust that have built over the last few months as they confer with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Donald Fehr, among others.
Think of it as a troubled couple — Bettman and Fehr — visiting with a pair of marriage counselors.
Joseph Folger, a Temple University professor who teaches courses in conflict and mediation, said the mediators can be helpful.
“It’s all about the timing when mediation is involved,” he said. “If both sides are at a place where they realize the alternative is much worse than compromising,” then a deal will get done. “Are they looking down at the abyss and figuring, ‘We can’t go on like this’? If they’re not there yet, than there’s very little the mediators can do.”
Folger said that if the labor war has turned into a personal battle — as it seems to have done, with Fehr and Bettman as the main combatants — “it makes the mediation tougher.”
He also said mediation can “save face” for the side that is more reluctant to compromise.
“The mediation-made-me-do-it syndrome can work in their favor,” he said. The side that makes what it perceives as the biggest concessions can “save face by implying it was pressure from the mediator that caused it. It wasn’t that they caved, but they went with something the mediator (suggested).”
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said the league had “no particular level of expectation going into this process.”
Fehr said on the YES Network: “If both sides want to come to an agreement, a skilled mediator can help.”
The two sides agreed to meet again Thursday.
Dividing hockey-related revenue, length of player contracts, length of the CBA, and free agency are among the issues that have stalled negotiations.
No one is putting a timetable on things, but if an agreement is not in place by early January, many experts think, the entire season will be canceled. Thus far, games have been erased through Dec. 14.
One of the dynamics that may help the NHL and the players union, Folger said, is that their battle “is in the public eye.” There can be pressure to close the deal because the sides don’t want to hear that “they couldn’t even get it done with a mediator.”
But that’s what happened in 2004-05, when mediation couldn’t resolve the differences and the season was canceled.
Mediation differs from arbitration, which has a third party impose a binding agreement. In mediation, the neutral third party works as a facilitator.
Flyers center Claude Giroux has been getting treatment on his neck in Georgia. GM Paul Holmgren said he wasn’t permitted to comment.