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NHL Lockout: Hire a Mediator and Maybe I’ll Care

It’s a rollercoaster ride watching social media as fans react to the latest news on the lockout. Take this week alone: The owners proposed a 50-50 split. The players make a counterproposal. Talks break down again. Fans are optimistic, but as the news unfolds slowly over a few days they dip into anger and frustration all over again.

But I have a hard time caring these days. I make cracks and observations, but I honestly have a hard time caring. Wake me up when the owners and players stop acting like stubborn children holding their breath and get something done. And the longer we dive into the lockout, the more I don’t care.

And if someone like me, who considers themselves a diehard fan, has stopped caring, that’s a death sentence for the NHL. Fans overall seem more angry this time around than they were in 2005, so the owners and players shouldn’t count on us just coming back like sheep so easily. We’ll probably be back, but it’s not going to be an easy sell this time around.

And there’s an important phrase in that last paragraph: “This time around.” Like Martin Brodeur, Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr, I am on my third lockout. Just thinking about those three future hall of famers and the fact that they’ve been three lockouts makes me wonder what sort of great hockey I have missed as a fan.

I’ve grown weary of hockey being snatched away from me because the owners and the players are acting like whining preschoolers stamping their feet because they’re not getting what they want. I’m the one walking away and not paying attention because it’s embarrassing and ridiculous to watch.

But there is a step that can be made to make me care about the process again: Hire a mediator.

In my career in journalism I’ve covered more union negotiations than I care to count. While most have been public unions, none have gotten as out of control as any sports union negotiation. Why? Both sides negotiate based on a set schedule. At some point a mediator gets involved. If mediation doesn’t work in a timely manner, an arbitrator gets involved. The arbitrator makes a decision and everyone has to live with it. You don’t want to get to binding arbitration because you never know what you’re going to get.

Clearly there’s no process to arbitration with any sports league’s collective bargaining negotiations, but they could be bringing in a mediator to help them resolve their issues. If the owners and the players are as far off as everyone keeps saying, why don’t they bring in a mediator? This is someone who could sit down, listen to both sides and help them come together and get a deal done. Plus then we’d really know who is being “fair.”

If the owners and players are serious about wanting to get something done, they would hire a mediator. We wouldn’t get a deal done tomorrow, but we would be on a clear path to saving some part of the hockey season. Maybe then I’d care again.

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