There have been a few up and down moments during this NHL lockout.
For one, the players’ acceptance of a move to a 50-50 revenue split with honored contracts caused a bit of a buzz – only to be met with an out-of-hand dismissal from the nonsensical owners. Another came when the owners first proposed a make-whole provision that provided some optimism, only to be shot down with pessimism by the NHLPA hours later.
So forgive me for not getting too excited about the entrance of federal mediators into this pointless drill.
While mediation can’t hurt this shameful negotiation, it also doesn’t guarantee progress. So far we’ve witnessed two sides unwilling to bargain off the other’s proposals and make any serious steps towards a conclusion. Until the players accept the fact they won’t receive every dollar of their old deals and until the NHL stops pushing for belligerent restrictions on contracting rights, we’ll be stuck in this cold cycle – and no amount of finger-pointing or flag waving will change that fact.
And while we can’t expect any results, immediate or otherwise, from mediation, perhaps the biggest benefit we’ll see is that it will hopefully cut through the nonsense and propaganda.
Right now, there’s a lot of bluster that you can’t really take at face value. Did the players make an immediate move to 50-50? Well, yes, in spirit, but a rise in make-whole demands essentially increases that share. Are all the NHL teams really in such dire straights that the entire economic system needs an overhaul, seven years after its last makeover? Well, no, not really. These are the kind of stubborn bridges that must be crossed and though the mediators will try and close the gap, history and the NHL way of business suggests they won’t be able to. And, unfortunately, we won’t be privy to the mediators’ suggestions.
But this is all you need to know: For mediation to be successful, the NHL will have to accept someone else’s suggestions on how to best run its business – if you think that’s likely, the players might have something to say to you. Players will also likely have to accept further concessions in some areas and considering they feel as though they’ve already moved a mile, the odds of openness to that avenue are long.
From the start, mediation was viewed as a last resort in this process, so the fact it's become involved in late-November as the NHLPA tosses around the prospect of blowing it up through decertification seems more troublesome than promising. With a little more than two months to go before we hit what was the drop-dead date for the 2004-05 season, is this the final step before nuclear war?
As long as the NHL and the PA are unwilling to come out of their corners, the rest of us will be stuck waiting it out and no amount of officiating will inspire them. As long as principle prevails over common sense, there are only two parties who can get this thing back on course – and those two parties can’t stand to look at or listen to each other.
Through unbinding mediation instead of binding arbitration, there is no reason to believe a neutral party will be able to knock some reasoned sense into this embarrassing exercise, no matter how respected they are. If there is one message the NHL has inadvertently broadcast to its fans since September, it’s to always assume the worst.
Winter is coming.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.