NEW YORK – The NHL, the players’ association and now even federal mediators agree on one thing: The bickering sides are nowhere near a deal that would put hockey back on the ice.
The league and the union wrapped up two days of talks Thursday in New Jersey, with help from mediators, but moved no closer to a solution to save the season that has already been delayed and shortened.
Two members from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service joined the discussions on Wednesday and Thursday but couldn’t bring the sides any 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.”
Players’ association executive director Donald Fehr echoed Daly’s remarks without offering insight where the process might head next.
The bottom line is that 75 days into the owners’ lockout of players, there is no end in sight. The lockout has already forced the cancellation of games through Dec. 14, the New Year’s Day Winter Classic, and the All-Star weekend in January.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered the union a meeting that would consist of only owners and players — without the presence of leaders on both sides of the dispute — Daly said. He added that the union was considering the proposal.
“We will be discussing all matters regarding the last two days of mediation as well as potential next steps with the Executive Board and Negotiating Committee,” NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said.
After agreeing to help from mediators Monday, the league and the union returned to the bargaining table on Wednesday for their first face-to-face talks in a week. Those discussions lasted for about six hours.
They met again Thursday morning until late afternoon before breaking off.
The next sure thing on the hockey calendar is the NHL board of governors, scheduled next Wednesday in New York. Meanwhile, the players could seek to decertify the union and challenge the lockout in court.
Either way, the sides are getting close to losing another season to labor strife. The NHL is already the only major North American sports league to cancel a season — 2004-2005 — because of such a dispute.
Mediation didn’t work back then, either, though the collective bargaining agreement that recently expired was ultimately hammered out. Mediators were summoned in February, shortly before the season was canceled.
In discussions last week, the players’ association made a new comprehensive proposal that was quickly rejected by the NHL.
George Cohen, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director, assigned deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh and director of mediation services John Sweeney to the negotiations on Monday.
Last week, Fehr said the sides were $182 million apart on a five-year deal, which comes to $1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.
The NHL wants to increase eligibility for free agency to 28 years of age or eight seasons of service, up from 27 years or seven seasons. The league has also proposed adding a year of service for salary arbitration eligibility, hiking it from 1-4 to 2-5 years of service, depending on the age a player signs.
On Oct. 16, the NHL proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, down from the players’ 57 percent portion of $3.3 billion last season. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players’ share over the halfway mark at the start of the next deal, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.
Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.
Owners want a seven-year deal, which the union says is too long because less than half the current players will be active by the last season.
WILD: Josh Harding didn’t feel right. The Minnesota Wild goalie became dizzy during a workout on the ice about two months ago, and he started seeing big, black dots.
The neck problem he had was much more than that. Doctors diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis after a series of tests, and he’s been undergoing treatment since then for the disease, which attacks the body’s immune system and affects the central nervous system. Symptoms can include problems with balance, vision and fatigue. But the 28-year-old Harding, who resumed on-ice workouts two weeks ago without trouble, has no plans to end or alter his career.
He said his goal is to be ready if the NHL lockout ends soon.
“I’m going to do my part over here, skating regularly, working out regularly, getting back into shape and hopefully be good to go for training camp,” Harding said after an informal workout on Thursday with some of his Wild teammates and other NHL players at the University of Minnesota.
Harding, who signed a three-year, $5.7 million contract this summer, played in a career-high 34 games last season, was 13-12-4 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
LINDEN SPEAKS: Former NHL Players’ Association President Trevor Linden is only an interested observer as another lockout rolls on.
“It’s disappointing to see the game not being where it should be — and that’s on the ice,” Linden said. “I follow, but it’s not my issue anymore. So I’m happy to be on the sidelines.”
The former Vancouver captain led the union during the 2004-05 lockout that resulted in an entire season being scrapped for the first time in NHL history.