President Bush headlines list of CBA mediators

When George W. Bush this week made the first official U.S. presidential visit to Ottawa in a decade, most news reports portrayed it as a fence-mending, bond-strengthening mission to the Canadian capital and Prime Minister Paul Martin.

That undoubtedly was true, as far as it went.

But according to a source who signaled his intention to talk by placing a plant out on his balcony, the visit had "something to do with hockey."

The possibilities:

• Bush wanted to make an official visit to a nation in which Senators have had a reputation for being easily intimidated.

• He thought it would be cool to get his autographed Paul Martin rookie card, obtained when the Stanley Cup champions visited the White House, signed by the Canadian PM as well as the Minneapolis-born New Jersey Devils defenseman.

• Bush planned on making a guest appearance on that quirky and wonderfully eclectic Canadian sports television show, TSN's "Off the Record," until staff members heard that Canadian actress Sarah Polley, a noted peace activist, also was scheduled to be among the panelists talking about sports that day.

• He asked Canadians to brief him on how to blame anything and everything bad that happens on the instigator rule.

• He always wanted to meet "that guy Leffler."

• Most important, he was going to talk with Canadian leaders about joining in an effort to mediate a settlement on a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the NHL lockout.

The NHL Players' Association invited the NHL back to the negotiation table on Thursday, perhaps sensing they'd be ordered to third-party mediation by either head of state.

Of course, if the source turns out to be unreliable, and hockey never came up at the sessions in the Canadian capital, it at least raises the question of others who could have both the clout and the capability to get the NHL and NHLPA officials together -- and keep them together until a settlement is reached that would get the league back on the ice. Soon.

THE BARENAKED LADIES: The members of the band are Canadian hockey fanatics; so guitar-playing vocalists Steven Page and Ed Robertson could set the tone for the session by doctoring the lyrics to one of their hits.

They'd sing: "If I had a million dollars ... I'd be a fourth-line winger."

At that point, Gary Bettman would jump in with: "Exactly!"

But they'd go on: "... or I'd buy a luxury suite and the Blackhawks wouldn't count it as revenue."

And Bob Goodenow would interject: "Right on!"

With that pox-on-both-houses point on the record, they could get down to serious negotiations. The only problem would be that a couple of the most old-fashioned, obstructionist owners would be wondering when the darned band would leave the room and the promised burlesque show would begin. (At least it would get them in the room, though.)

JOHN KERRY: He plays hockey, he pronounces Brad Park's name the way it's supposed to be pronounced ("Boston goal scored by number 22, Brad
Pahk), and he doesn't have as much to do these days as he hoped he would.

PAUL NEWMAN: Remember, he and Strother Martin (who, unfortunately, died in 1980) weren't only together in "Slap Shot," but also "Cool Hand Luke." So Newman could open the mediation with, "What we have here is a failure to communicate," and when Bettman challenges him and says that line actually was Martin's, Newman could correctly point out what everyone seems to forget -- that he mocked Martin with the line late in "Cool Hand Luke."

The food product and auto-racing kingpin also could pass out free popcorn, tickets to the Molson Indy races in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, and threaten to bring in the Hanson Brothers if this stupid thing doesn't get settled soon.

BRUCE McNALL and ALAN EAGLESON: As old hockey guys, they believe it would be positively criminal if the lockout continues. And neither side would challenge the claim.

CELINE DION: After a couple of owners tell her they have all her 8-tracks, and she lobbies to have a franchise placed in Las Vegas, she could swear she'll keep singing that darned song from "Titanic" until an agreement is reached.

That'll get 'em talking.

PETER JENNINGS: The Canadian-born anchor would be looking for a way to get attention in the wake of Tom Brokaw's final broadcast and the announcement that Dan Rather will step down next year.

PAUL SHAFFER: David Letterman's band leader, another noted Canadian, could toss out a Top Ten List to jump-start the negotiations. On the "Top Ten Reasons You Should Settle."

No. 1: "Hey, Wayne, if this goes on much longer, the U.S. government might make you move back to Canada."

Horrified, Wayne Gretzky would jump in and use the respect he has on both sides of the table to help Shaffer mediate a settlement.

COLIN POWELL: The soon-to-be-former secretary of state will be available just in time to save the season. He'd be especially passionate given the possibility that somebody might actually pay attention to him this time.

JAMIE SALE AND DAVID PELLETIER: The 2002 co-Olympic gold medalists have firsthand experience dealing with mediation in a sport filled with international competitors.

JASON GIAMBI AND BARRY BONDS: The players could tease everyone with their tried-and-true method of improving offense, which will be implemented once the new CBA is in force.

DONALD TRUMP: Dissatisfied with the way both "companies" have performed on the project, he alters his ultimate solution a bit and exclaims: "You're all fired."

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the recently published "Third Down and a War to Go," and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."