Moderates push NHL, NHLPA back to table

With considerable push from both owners and players behind the scenes, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association will be back at it Wednesday.

The moderates on each side were working the phones all weekend long, sources told ESPN.com, pushing like crazy for both sides to resume talks, back-channelling between owners, agents and players stressing the need to get right back at it in an effort to once and for all end a lockout that should have never lasted this long.

And even then, there’s still no guarantee it’s going to work, although I will maintain that both sides are not that far apart on a deal.

Just who would be in the room was going to be finalized Tuesday by the NHL and NHLPA, with sources indicating the league was leaning toward no owners this time, while the union may still invite players. But sources said federal mediators will be involved again.

Among those working behind the scenes to try to get things back on track has been New York Rangers owner James Dolan and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle, sources said.

While there technically is not supposed to be direct communication between players and owners, it’s hard to believe that hasn’t been happening. With the season on the line and moderates on both sides refusing to give up and see the industry suffer an unmitigated disaster if there’s no season for the second time in eight years, there’s all kinds of dialogue going on to pressure both Gary Bettman and Don Fehr into taking another stab at this.

That both sides have yet to name the location, and perhaps they won’t, is annoying for the media, but sources indicate it’s reflective of the league's belief that last week’s drama-filled events in New York -- with play-by-play by the media on site -- didn’t help the process.

As many fans have been saying for weeks, both sides should just hide away and emerge only once a deal is done.

Perhaps they’ll get their wish this week.

Ottawa-based sports labor lawyer Eric Macramalla was skeptical that mediation would be effective given the history of pro sports labor disputes.

But the partner in Gowlings, a national law firm, did express surprise at the league's efforts to cut NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr out of the process.

"One thing that is really interesting is how the NHL has sought to exclude Fehr from the negotiation process -- that amounts to trying to dramatically change the conditions of negotiations. However, Fehr is here to stay. He’s also old school labor law, and as a result, I suspect doesn’t take kindly to attempts to undermine the union as bargaining agent for the players," Macramalla told ESPN.com in an email Tuesday afternoon.

That said, the lawyer believes the two sides should be able to hammer out their differences sooner than later.

"While logically this should settle within seven days, these negotiations have been filled with surprises. So it’s tough to know how things will shake out," Macramalla wrote.

-- Scott Burnside