NHL lockout: Mediators strike out; talks go on hold again

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Even before the NHL and NHL Players' Association broke off meetings overseen by federal mediators, Penguins forward Craig Adams was philosophical about the latest chapter of the negotiating process.

"I don't think that we're necessarily putting a whole lot of stock into mediation," Adams, the team's union representative, said Thursday after skating with seven teammates at Southpointe. "The mediator can't make you do anything."

The sides met under the guidance of mediators Wednesday and Thursday, but the session Thursday in New Jersey broke off late in the afternoon, meaning an end to the lockout that was instituted by owners in mid-September is no closer.

"After spending several hours with both sides over two days, the presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

"We are disappointed that the mediation process was not successful."

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, in a statement, concurred that the mediators "did not think it was productive to continue the discussions" but "indicated that they would stay in contact with the league and the NHLPA, and would call the parties back together when they thought the time was right."

The short mediation phase might have been worth a try, but it wasn't something a lot of players thought would magically close the large gap between the sides on issues such as revenue split and contract rights.

"The last time a mediator was around, in '04-05, the season got canceled four or five days afterward," Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said of the previous lockout.

"It can go both ways. If both sides are willing to negotiate, then a mediator's going to be good. If not, it doesn't do anything."

It's not known where things go from here. The league has a board of governors meeting scheduled Wednesday in New York.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman apparently suggested a meeting between players and owners, with no league or union staff, but it's not known which owners and players would be invited or what the union response to the suggestion might be.

The players have hinted behind the scenes that they might consider decertifying the union, or executing a related disclaimer of interest, which would end collective bargaining and allow players to fend for themselves and go after the owners in court over the lockout.

The NBA and NFL used decertification as a tactic in lockouts last year.

It's also possible more players will explore opportunities to join overseas teams.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin remained in his native Russia at the end of the summer and is playing for his hometown Kontinental Hockey League club, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He has been following the events in North America.

In an interview with Sovetsky Sport, relayed by Russia Today, Malkin said it's not just a matter of quibbling when it comes to variances in the NHL revenue split. The league has made it clear it wants a 50-50 split, and pretty much immediately. The NHLPA, in its latest proposal, switched over from a dollar-based formula to one preferred by the league based on percentages, but which has a phase-in down to 50 percent.

"This 1 percent [difference] is millions of dollars," Malkin said in the interview. "But what surprises me is that hockey isn't the main business for club owners. They are all billionaires and argue with us -- those who make living only through sports.

"I've signed a good contract with Magnitogorsk. It's easier for me. But many guys are now sitting without money.

"We want a decent agreement with the NHL because we have to think about families. Club owners are great guys. I think they could've just given up on this 1 percent and not be so stubborn."

Malkin, the reigning NHL scoring champion and MVP, has played 25 games. He ranks third in the KHL with 33 points, including 22 assists that put him in a tie for third.

Malkin said he believes Russia is just a detour in his career because he doesn't think "that club owners would destroy the NHL down to rock bottom."

Malkin is enjoying what most of his locked-out NHL brethren cannot.

"I'm happy with everything in Magnitogorsk," he said.

"We have a great team. We win a lot. I'm in good shape and get plenty of time on the ice."

NOTES -- The other six Penguins who skated at Southpointe were defensemen Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy, forwards Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Joe Vitale, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. ... Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who flew to Arizona Tuesday and joined a training camp of fellow locked-out NHL players Wednesday, missed the session Thursday because of illness, according to reports from Scottsdale.

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For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com and Twitter @pgshelly


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