Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Last gasp at labour peace?

Mediation could be final chance to save 2012-13 campaign

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Just around noon on Wednesday, two federal mediators began their first sit-down session with the NHL and NHL Players' Association in an attempt to end a lockout now into its 75th day, to stop the financial bloodbath both sides are suffering and save a portion of the 2012-13 season.

And given all the doubt and negativity that surrounds this latest attempt to bridge the gap between the two sides, if Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service can somehow help facilitate a deal, then their likenesses should be bronzed and displayed in front of every NHL arena from Anaheim to Boston and Edmonton to Sunrise, Fla.

The general consensus as the discussions began Wednesday and were expected to last into Thursday-Friday is this: mediation is a last-minute, pull-the-goalie long shot. And if nothing materializes, the next announcement from NHL headquarters might be to nuke the entire 2012-13 season.

"We all hope it can help out," said Winnipeg Jet captain Andrew Ladd after an off-ice workout at the MTS Iceplex on Wednesday. "But at the end of the day it's one of those things where it's still not going to work unless you have two parties that are willing to negotiate and try and get a deal done, which we haven't had so far.

"You hope it can lead to something, but we'll have to wait and see."

The NHL has already cancelled games through to Dec. 14, 422 in total, including the Winter Classic on New Year's Day as well as the NHL All-Star weekend in Columbus on Jan. 26-27 and the lockout, now into its third month, is costing both the league and players millions of dollars daily. At the same time, the NHL brand is not only losing fans and sponsors, the apathy surrounding this ongoing dispute is spreading.

"You learn to suppress you optimism a little bit," said Ladd. "You learn the process and, unfortunately, it's taken a lot more time than everyone would have liked.

"We just want to play hockey, that's the main thing. The frustrating thing is we don't have a willing negotiating partner trying to get the deal done. They're trying to hit the home run, which is unfortunate because the game was doing so well and heading in the right direction in so many ways. It would have been nice to find a fair deal for both parties and we could move forward and grow the game together even more."

In the meantime -- and seemingly barring a negotiating miracle -- the gulf between the two sides will only further grow. So, too, will the angst among the game's fans and icons. An example: on Wednesday Hockey Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay spoke out in an interview with ESPN Boston, agreeing with Washington Capitals defenceman Roman Hamrlik, who last week questioned the leadership of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and suggested the players vote on the latest NHL proposal.

"He was absolutely right," Lindsay said. "Every one of these players needs to realize the money they've lost, they will never get back in their lifetime. The front two lines of every team are the big money-earners and they're going to be fine no matter what, but the third- and fourth-liners or the guys like (Hamrlik) at the end of their career, they're going to feel it and I'm sure they are feeling it, so they should speak up.

"We love our game. We're all basically small-towners across Canada, across the United States and, now, across Europe as well. We want the best for our game, for the players and for the owners but most of all for the game, and we want that game back on the ice. You know what, really at this point it doesn't matter whether it's players or owners or who knows who is right and wrong. The damage they're both doing to hockey right now bothers me so much." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2012 D3

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