NHL lockout 2012: Mediation means nothing without effort

Bruce Bennett

The federal mediator appointed to help with the NHL and NHLPA negotiations won't accomplish a thing, unless the NHL and NHLPA are ready to let that happen.

We are now more than 70 days into one of the dumbest work stoppages in the history of sports.

(By the way, my use of the word "dumbest" is not meant as a shot at the men seen to be largely responsible for it, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Instead, it's directed at everyone collectively. You guys blew up a growing business that pulled in $3.3 billion in revenue last year. Nice job.)

Finally, it seems both sides have figured out that they are either unwilling or simply not able to solve this thing on their own. Monday, it was announced that a federal mediator will preside over talks this week.

Here comes more false optimism for everyone to feed off of, until Fehr and Bettman emerge from the room to tell reporters that they still aren't getting anywhere, and they still don't know what it's going to take to end this stupidity.

It's bound to be the height of false optimism, because while the sides are busy playing their PR game, all the mediator can do is suggest areas of agreement and compromise. It's not like s/he can force anything to happen. It's still up to the NHL and NHLPA to make this happen.

While the move to a mediator is probably a positive step, it isn't a sign that either side is prepared to actually make an effort to get this deal done.

As my buddy Dominik wrote, Bettman is still speaking in spin and talking points, and while Dominik fails to mention that Fehr and his cronies have done nothing but the same, that is also true. Both sides are playing the PR game, and they're too occupied with it to sit down and figure this thing out.

Heck, they can't even agree on how far apart they are. How stupid is that?

Until the day comes that Bettman's bosses, the 30 -- er, 29 -- team owners, band together enough to force the commissioner and his committee to actually negotiate, rather than shoot down proposals and present spin about a lack of movement from the other side or a lack of desire on Fehr's part to get a deal done, nothing will get done.

And until Fehr's bosses -- the hundreds of highly-skilled and talented NHL players -- demand that he make a deal so they can get back to doing what they do best at the highest level possible, it's unlikely that anything will happen to lead us away from this dumb lockout.

The federal mediator can be as skilled as possible, but no mediator can make these sides want to negotiate.

Until they want to negotiate, we'll still be sitting here with no NHL hockey and little hope of seeing any this season.

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