Since its beginnings, the NHL’s labor war has mirrored the work stoppage endured by the NBA last season.
Like their NBA counterparts, owners from the NHL have tried reducing the players’ share of league revenue from 57 percent to 50 percent. Like their NBA counterparts, the NHL players have strongly resisted.
On Monday the NHL and its players decided to place their dispute in the hands of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and – you guessed it – the chief mediator is the same gentleman who was appointed to settle the NBA lockout last season.
For the record, George H. Cohen did not ride in on a white horse and save the NBA last year. But his three days of intensive mediation certainly got the ball rolling, and the NHL is hoping for the same result when negotiating committees from both sides meet with Cohen in New York on Wednesday.
“While we have no particular level of expectation going into this process, we welcome a new approach in trying to reach a resolution of the ongoing labor dispute at the earliest possible date,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday.
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr also showed a hint of optimism.
“We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners,” he said in a statement.
Cohen has quite a resume when it comes to mediating high-profile negotiations.
He personally mediated disputes between Major League Soccer and it players; the Metropolitan Opera and its orchestra musicians; the NFL and its players; the Federal Aviation Administration and its air traffic controllers; the American Red Cross and a national coalition of labor unions; and most recently, the NFL and its officials.
Last year, Cohen first met with the NBA and its players on Oct. 17. The two sides met for about 30 hours over three days, but could not come to terms on a few key issues and mediation ended on Oct. 20.
The NBA players’ union took the next step by applying for decertification and in mid-November filed a class action lawsuit against the league’s owners. The two sides came to an agreement on Thanksgiving and the NBA was back on the court on Christmas Day.
It is worth noting that the NHL and its players sought mediation during the 2004-05 lockout and still lost the entire season.
The NHL and its players have stated they are about $182 million apart on the NHL’s “make whole” provision that promises players will be paid a portion of their current contracts in deferred increments.
If Cohen is able to close that gap, the NHL and its players can go to work on the contracting rights that were so hotly debated last week, when talks broke off and the league canceled all games through Dec. 14.
Although no one has spoken publicly on a deadline to salvage an abbreviated season, many believe that if the NHL cannot begin a truncated season by Jan. 1 it will become the first professional sports league in North America to lose two full seasons to labor disputes.