It’s not exactly the news all hockey fans are waiting for, but it’s not bad news, either.
After 11 weeks of stop-and-start labor negotiations, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association have mutually agreed to include the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in their efforts to solidify a new collective bargaining agreement. This development was reported by numerous sources Monday afternoon, including ESPN.com NHL reporter Pierre LeBrun and TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
The FMCS was established in 1947 as an independent agency of the United States government. According to its website, the FMCS has the mission of “preventing or minimizing the impact of labor-management disputes on the free flow of commerce by providing mediation, conciliation and voluntary arbitration.”
FMCS director George Cohen intervened in the recent NFL and NBA lockouts; he has also previously served as an advisor to the NBA, MLB and NHL players’ unions. Because of his previous relationship with the NHLPA, Cohen has appointed Scott Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney to serve as mediators starting Wednesday.
Whether those two will be able to help talks progress is anybody’s guess, but it is interesting that they are getting involved just days after the NHLPA floated the possibility of de-certification, as Adam Proteau of The Hockey News observed.
Either way, it’s difficult to interpret mediation as a net negative at the conference table. At the very least, a fresh set of eyes and ears will stimulate both sides to express their previous offers in ways digestible to outsiders. However, as legal analyst Michael McCann reminds us, mediation isn’t binding. In other words, whatever is discussed in these sessions doesn’t function as an actual agreement.
McCann also writes at the above link that deadlines motivate bargainers more than mediators. In that case, we have both factors in play, as the holiday season approaches with nearly half the season already cancelled. It stands to reason that December will be the deciding month if the Stanley Cup is to be awarded in 2013.
The FMCS boasts a nearly-90 percent success rate in settling labor disputes, but its track record in the world of sports is much less impressive. There are signs that we are moving into the lockout’s endgame phase, but Beckenbaugh and Sweeney will find out what hockey fans already know: there is much work to be done.