NHL proposes meeting between owners, players

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 7:54 p.m.

Federal mediators were stymied Thursday by the neutral-zone trap that is the NHL labor dispute.

Now with a second lost season in eight years a growing possibility, the league has proposed a meeting between only owners and players, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

Daly declined to provide details, and he would not say whether all NHL owners or representatives would be available for the meeting that would exclude league and union executives such as commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr.

The Players' Association did not say if it would agree to the meeting — though many players, including Penguins from Sidney Crosby to union rep Craig Adams, have said they would like to hear from more owners.

Members of top Penguins brass — majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, CEO David Morehouse (governor) and general manager Ray Shero (alternate governor) — have not attended group negotiation sessions since the lockout began Sept. 15.

The Penguins, who declined comment, are a moderate compared with hard-line clubs such as the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals. Those teams have been represented at negotiations.

Teams face a fine between $250,000 and $1 million for publicly discussing the labor dispute.

Only a handful of owners have attended group negotiations, whereas the NHLPA reports that nearly 100 players have attended bargaining sessions.

Two days of mediated negotiations broke Thursday with no progress toward a labor contract to end a lockout in its 75th day.

“We aren't necessarily putting a whole lot of stock in mediation — at least, I'm not,” Adams said after a players' organized workout at the club's Southpointe practice facility. “A mediator can't make you do anything.”

That was the assessment from local legal experts, who said they doubted even a respected entity such as the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS) could bridge an ideological gap between the NHL and NHLPA.

“The only time mediation has any force is when a judge is involved,” said Ralph Cindrich, a Carnegie-based lawyer, mediator and NFL player agent.

The league and union agreed to FMCS mediation Monday. Negotiations began Wednesday and extended into Thursday.

“We are disappointed that the mediation process was not successful,” Daly said in a statement.

Fehr, in a statement, said, “Mediators indicated that they would stay in contact (and) would call the parties back together when they thought the time was right.”

Players have talked openly about moving to decertify the union, as their peers in the NFL and NBA did during 2011 lockouts. The NFLPA and NBAPA each recertified after new labor contracts were reached.

“Decertification basically means the players are no longer represented by the union, and now it is individual rights of action against the employer,” said Jared Simmer, director of the Piedmont Private Adjudication Center in the North Hills and a public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon.

Simmer said the risk is that a federal judge could rule it “a sham and not recognize the decertification.”

NHL games are canceled through Dec. 14.

Mediators also failed to save the 2004-05 season when they presided over bargaining sessions in February 2005. The season was canceled three days after those negotiations broke.

That lockout was mostly a fight over owners wanting a salary cap system. This one is “about money,” Adams said.

The NHL and NHLPA are divided on many fronts, specifically: definition and split of revenue, owners' revenue sharing, money available to honor players' current contracts and contractual issues such as free agency and max term limits.

Staff writer Josh Yohe contributed. Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

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