The NHL and NHL Players' Association are pulling out all the stops to try to save the season.
With talks on a collective bargaining agreement going nowhere, the league and union both confirmed Monday they will meet with the Federal Mediation and Concillation Service (FMCS) in an effort to get a deal in place.
The two sides are expected to sit down Wednesday with three representatives of the Washington-based organization to see if they can bridge the gap and get hockey back on the ice. The labour dispute will hit Day 73 Tuesday.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told QMI Agency in an email Monday both sides were contacted by the FMCS and have agreed to meet with them. He isn't sure one way or another if mediation is going to be helpful.
"There is no way to know until we actually engage in the process (as to whether it will work)," said Daly. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
The FMCS asked to get involved in the talks after speaking with both parties. Before you get excited, the National Labour Relations Board conducted three sessions with the NHL and the union before the season was cancelled in 2004-05.
In a statement on the FMCS website, director George Cohen confirmed he had spoken with both sides. He assigned three staff to the case: deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh, John Sweeney and commissioner Guy Serota.
"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the (NHL and NHLPA) during the course of their negotiations. At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices," said Cohen.
It should be noted Cohen was involved in the NFL's labour talks for 17 days last spring before they broke off. The process is also non-binding, which means the league and the union don't have to live with what the FMCS offers up.
If talks are to get anywhere, then somebody is going to have to blink -- again -- after discussions broke down when the league turned down union executive director Donald Fehr's recent proposal last Wednesday in New York.
"We look forward to the (FMCS( involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners," said Fehr.
A story making the rounds Monday said Fehr suggested mediation during talks last month and was asked by commissioner Gary Bettman if the union was looking to "save face" by using a third party.
Sources say if the two sides just sat down for a "give-and-take" negotiation session, they aren't far apart. But they have to get two major issues cleared up if they're going to be able to get the basis of a deal in place.
Apparently, neither side is willing to budge, which is why the federal mediator is involved. The FMCS claims an 85% success rate in the last four years, but that number is meaningless with these two parties.
The NHL and NHLPA have moved closer on contracting issues: contract-term limits; entry-level deals; arbitration and free agency. They are within striking distance and could get something done.
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.
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby would support a return to the table.
"I think a lot of guys are frustrated with ... the not talking," Crosby told Pittsburgh reporters Monday. "We understand the business side, that there are negotiations and proposals going back and forth, that kind of thing.
"But I think the whole process is frustrating. If we really want to get something done, I feel like we have to be there every single day, no matter what. Whether or not that's going to happen, I don't know, but the process is probably more frustrating than anything."
With the NHL's board of governors set to meet Dec. 5 in New York to get an update on talks, the NHL will want to see where this goes.
"We welcome a new approach in trying to reach a resolution of the ongoing labour dispute at the earliest possible date," Daly said in a statement.
Nothing else has worked. Why not?