NHL Lockout: How Mediation Could Save the 2012-2013 Season

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst INovember 29, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Wednesday afternoon, NHL lockout negotiations officially progressed into their next stage, as NHL and NHLPA leaders met with federal mediators for the first time.

The seven-hour meeting, however, concluded with little optimism.

While both sides remained relatively silent about the day's proceedings—neither NHL commissioner Gary Bettman nor NHLPA head Donald Fehr are permitted to speak publicly about the mediation sessions—it is believed that most of the afternoon was spent separately.

Most of today saw NHL and NHLPA separated from each other in different meetings each with mediators. Which was as expected.

— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) November 29, 2012

Not a lot of info avail from yesterdays mediation, although important to note mediation is a form of bargaining, so process is ongoing.

— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) November 29, 2012

Although Wednesday's lengthy session failed to provide much information on the current momentum of negotiations, the majority of both in-the-know experts and on-the-sidelines fans have lost confidence in the system.

Of course, after the Bettman vs. Fehr public relations chess battle of the last three months, any compromise between these two increasingly bitter foes seems impossible. Until a physical CBA is created, ratified and implemented, many will find it hard to believe that the lockout is moving toward a conclusion.

But mediation could change that.

After all, for head mediators John Sweeney and Scot Beckenbaugh, this is what they've made a living on—solving hundreds upon hundreds of seemingly-unresolvable conflicts.

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According to Temple University professor Joseph Folger (via Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer):

"It's all about the timing when mediation is involved. [It can work] if both sides are at a place where they realize the alternative is much worse than compromising."

While that's not an attitude we've seen much during this process, it's certainly possible that the two sides are beginning to much that realization.

USA Today's Kevin Allen reports that, at this point, the owners are losing $18 to $20 million and the players are losing $8 to $10 million

daily. If the two sides' positions are only about $182 million apart, both sides will have lost more money than they're arguing over in a mere two weeks.

Also per Folger:

"The mediation-made-me-do-it syndrome can [also] work in their favor." The side that makes what it perceives as the biggest concessions can "save face by implying it was pressure from the mediator that caused it. It wasn't that they caved, but they went with something the mediator [suggested]."

Given the plethora of PR ploys and press-conference duels that both sides have employed this fall, "saving face" may sound very inviting to some of those involved in the process.

Remember, the 2004-2005 lockout ended disastrously for the NHLPA. This time, Fehr and Co. may welcome an opportunity to end this lockout as, in the eyes of the public, a virtual tie.

Further, there's always the possibility that mediators Sweeney and Beckenbaugh could actually help the two sides find ways to compromise.

A Wednesday Forbes report on the growing NHL profitability gap could help the players' push for increased revenue sharing. A Toronto Star article last week indicates the NHL could be closer to getting its way with free agency-related issues, such as UFA requirements and entry-level requirements. Albeit slowly, progress has been—and, hopefully, will continue to be—made.

So forget the continent-wide pessimism, ugly press release exchanges and mood-dampening news leaks.

Forget the last two months' endless stream of rejected proposals.

Forget the feeling that this latest step is, yet again, not going to yield any progress.

After all of this, mediation might be just what the 2012-13 NHL lockout needs.

Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009. He has written more than 435 articles and received more than 745,000 reads. 

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