NHL labor: Mediators presence spurs some optimism

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Craig Adams knows that introducing federal mediators to the talks for a new collective bargaining agreement in the NHL could be critical to ending the lockout that has shuttered the league for 2 1/2 months.

That bringing fresh eyes and ears and thoughts to the negotiations could help both sides find common ground that had been overlooked previously, could help to generate traction where there has been only spinning wheels and frustration.

But he also realizes that mediation comes with no guarantees, that the NHL won't necessarily be lifted out of suspended animation simply because some new faces turn up at the bargaining table.

Which is why Adams, like most of the Penguins he serves as player representative, is cautiously optimistic, at best, that adding mediators to the mix will have a positive impact.

"I don't know that it's going to make much of a difference," Adams said after a player-organized workout Tuesday at Southpointe. "But, hopefully, it can't hurt."

Optimists like to cite the numerous examples of mediators helping to bring about agreements in labor disputes that had seemed to be hopelessly stalemated.

Pessimists counter by noting that back in the winter of 2004-05, mediators got involved in the negotiations for a new CBA -- just days before a season was canceled.

And realists point out that it is management and labor, not any outside party, that will determine whether mediation was an inspired addition or simply another sideshow in a dispute that has had no shortage of them.

"The way it was expressed to me, a skilled mediator can be very helpful in negotiations, but only if both sides are motivated to make a deal," Adams said.

"There have been instances where [mediation] helped, but both sides have to be motivated to do a deal.

"And, if they're not, it doesn't matter what the mediator says."

Mediation, he noted, is non-binding, which means that neither the owners nor the players can have any terms imposed upon them.

Consequently, salvaging at least a portion of the 2012-13 season still will hinge on either one side collapsing or both compromising.

Adding a third party to the talks is intended to make the latter more likely.

"To get a different opinion, I think, is great," center Sidney Crosby said. "The more that they're in the room talking, the better it is.

"I'm a big believer that if you want to get something done, that you stay in a room, figure it out and keep talking.

"When you have those lulls in talks, nothing's going to get accomplished that way. This is good, I think."

The most daunting challenge for the mediators will be to get the parties to agree on how to divide hockey-related related revenues, but other issues ranging from the length and structure of contracts to the finer points of free agency figure to be difficult to work out, as well.

"What [the negotiators] are hoping -- what I'm hoping -- is that [mediation] will spark conversation in a new direction," defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

"Maybe just a different train of thought from one side or the other. Or, hopefully, both. And we can move toward a deal from there."

Imposing as some of the current issues appear to be, some players feel the hurdles to a deal were greater eight years ago.

"Hopefully it's a little easier than it was then," he said. "You were talking about redoing a whole [salary] structure.

"There was a lot of complicated things there. I think right now, it's just dollars."

And, ultimately, it is the owners and players, not the mediators, who must determine whether there is an equitable way to share them and to resolve the numerous other differences.

"At the end of the day, we still have to make a decision, or they have to make a decision," left winger Matt Cooke said.

"The mediators can only suggest what they think is best."

NOTES -- Agent Pat Brisson confirmed that Crosby is "at a point of making a decision" about whether to go to Europe because of the lockout and said that "we got calls from pretty much every league and/or [country]" expressing interest in signing him. Brisson added that while teams are not balking at paying for Crosby's insurance, it is not possible to cover all 13 seasons remaining on his contracts with the Penguins. ... Niskanen said he doesn't plan to explore playing possibilities in Europe in the near future and likely not until after the NHL season would be canceled.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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