Mediation yields no progress

NEW YORK -- It appears the mediation route will not spell the end of the lockout.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association met for the second straight day Thursday but gained no traction in brokering a new collective bargaining agreement through the use of a federal mediator.

"After spending several hours with both sides over two days, the presiding mediators concluded the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time. We are disappointed that the mediation process was not successful," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

The league and union accepted an invitation from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services earlier this week to try to resolve the differences dividing the two sides, but they remain too far apart on the key issues. Thursday's session, which a source confirmed was held in Woodbridge, N.J., broke off around 4 p.m. ET.

"This afternoon, the mediators informed the parties that they did not think it was productive to continue the discussions further today," Fehr said in a statement. "The mediators indicated that they would stay in contact with the league and the NHLPA, and would call the parties back together when they thought the time was right."

There are no more mediation sessions scheduled and the two sides are unlikely to continue exploring this option for future negotiations, two sources said.

However, the two sides may be entertaining a different option.

Multiple sources told ESPNNewYork.com that commissioner Gary Bettman proposed to Fehr a meeting between owners and players only, with no league or NHLPA staff present. Fehr is believed to be considering the option but has yet to respond to the league.

"We want to find a way to get to a deal," Daly said. "Nothing else has worked. The commissioner felt that we might as well propose something different. We will see how they respond."

The bottom line is that, 75 days into the owners' lockout of players, there is no end in sight. The lockout has already forced the cancellation of games through Dec. 14, the New Year's Day Winter Classic, and the All-Star weekend in January.

The next sure thing on the hockey calendar is the NHL board of governors, scheduled next Wednesday in New York. Meanwhile, the players could seek to decertify the union and challenge the lockout in court.

Either way, the sides are getting close to losing another season to labor strife. The NHL is already the only major North American sports league to cancel a season because of such a dispute -- when the 2004-05 schedule was wiped out.

Mediation didn't work back then, either, though the collective bargaining agreement that recently expired was ultimately hammered out. Mediators were summoned in February, shortly before the season was canceled.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.