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Mediators step into labor situation between NHL, Players' Association

NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr, center, arrives for labor talks at NHL headquarters in New York with his brother, NHLPA counsel Steven Fehr, right, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

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By Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe
Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, 4:58 p.m.

Mediators will referee the chippy labor game between the NHL and its Players' Association.

The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service will oversee negotiations between the league and union, FMCS director George Cohen said in a statement Monday.

"At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices," Cohen said.

The FMCS mediators assigned to the NHL/NHLPA negotiations are Scot L. Beckenbaugh, deputy director, and John Sweeny, director of mediation services.

FMCS commissioner Guy Serota was removed as a mediator late Monday because of "an alleged hacking" of his Twitter account, Cohen said in a statement.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, in a statement, that the league has "no particular level of expectation going into this (mediation) process," but added he welcomed a "new approach."

Added NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr: "We look forward to (FMCS) involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both players and owners."

Cohen said FMCS policy is not to comment on negotiations.

An owners' lockout of players will hit Day 73 Tuesday. Games are canceled through Dec. 14, and the league and union cannot even agree if they are close to a deal.

The league and union last negotiated Wednesday, when the NHL did not approve the NHLPA's latest proposal. The most significant differences between the sides are related to revenue definitions and split, money designated for current contracts and contracting issues such as max term limits and free agency.

Players' talk in recent days about possible union decertification — a tactic used by the NFL and NBA unions during 2011 lockouts in those leagues — may have drawn interest from the FMCS, a local expert said.

However, the NHL's impact on United States' commerce was likely a bigger reason for FMCS involvement, said Jared Simmer, a local mediator and arbitrator.

A Penguins home game was worth about $2.1 million last season, official tourism agency VisitPittsburgh reported in September. NHL clubs are the primary tenants in 20 of 30 buildings, including Consol Energy Center.

"In most cases the FMCS never gets involved, but in big contracts like this they're going to get involved whether you ask them or not," said Simmer, director of the Piedmont Private Adjudication Center and a public policy professor at CMU.

"Sometimes the FMCS is involved for many months, so this doesn't mean it will be a successful or quick resolution - just that FMCS thinks it's important enough to enter into the process."

Simmer said the involvement of federal mediation is an indication the NHL and NHLPA "think they are stuck, and as a way to save face publicly they want FMCS to come in and help clean things up."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Fehr have each expressed their frustration with the lack of movement since negotiations for a new labor contract began in July. The old contract expired Sept. 15.

The NHL lost its 2004-05 season to a labor dispute. That marked the first time in the history of major North American professional sports that a season was not played because of labor strife. Mediators were unsuccessful in saving the NHL's 2004-05 season.

Penguins star center Sidney Crosby was not part of that lockout, but this one is wearing on him as he continues to attend workouts at the club's Southpointe practice facility. He called the process of these negotiations "frustrating."

"I wouldn't say I'm as optimistic as I was last week - just still trying to hold on and hear some good news, like everyone else," he said. "I don't really think anyone can really describe how frustrated we are at this point. We've been through it for a while now. Getting frustrated over it isn't going to change it. It's up to everyone to find a way to make it work."

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