Mediators unsuccessful in ending NHL stalemate

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly takes questions outside

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly takes questions outside U.S. District Court after a hearing in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of the Phoenix Coyotes. (Credit: AP, 2009)

Two federal mediators could not resolve the standoff between the NHL and NHLPA Thursday as a second day of talks ended without progress on a labor agreement to end the three-month-old lockout.

"After spending several hours with both sides over two days, presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said after the session at a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service regional office in Iselin, N.J. "We are disappointed that the process was not successful."

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr had a slightly different slant, saying the mediators did not think the non-binding discussions were "productive" and will call the parties back together "when they [the mediators] thought the time was right."

The league did offer something radical. At Thursday's session, commissioner Gary Bettman, feeling nothing else has worked, proposed a meeting of only players and owners, without Bettman and Daly and top NHLPA executives. "We will be discussing all matters regarding the last two days of mediation as well as potential next steps with the Executive Board and Negotiating Committee," an NHLPA spokesman said Thursday night.

The NHL Board of Governors meets on Wednesday in New York, and the labor standoff surely will be the main topic of discussion -- and possibly action. If the union agrees to the parameters of Bettman's offer -- which owners and players will be invited was unclear -- a meeting could be set before or just after the governors gather.

Regular-season games have been canceled through Dec. 14, and it was not known when the two sides will convene again, or what the next steps will be. Fehr said in Atlantic City before Saturday's charity game for Sandy relief that a number of options were open.

"There are two sets of laws which govern these situations, and what happens is from time to time, unions and sports unions have essentially said that there are circumstances in which the members would be better off without a union and taking action under the anti-trust laws," Fehr said. "You can check what's happened in the other sports. I'm not going to discuss whether we've had any such discussions."

Several players have said decertification was briefly discussed during meetings. The NBA players' union filed a disclaimer of interest, which is a faster, more retractable form of decertification that dissolves the union and allowed players to file anti-trust or class-action suits. Decertification requires a 30 percent vote of all members and a petition to the National Labor Relations Board, and can take 45 to 60 days. The NBA's disclaimer was filed on Nov. 14, 2011, negotiations resumed and the season started on Christmas Day. The NFLPA fully decertified before the owners locked them out in the spring of 2011, and a full season was played.

"I wouldn't view an antitrust lawsuit in this case to be anything other than an unfortunate development," Daly told a Toronto radio station last week, "because I think it's a time-consuming process that would likely lead to the end of the season."

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