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Top Shelf: Mediation a bust, so what's next?

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Philadelphia, PA (World Wide Gamble) - The chance of federal mediation having a positive effect on the NHL lockout was considered a long shot and somehow the process managed to fall well below those meager expectations.

There was at least hope that mediators could bring another set of eyes to the stalled negotiations and put this battle between the players and owners on the road to reconciliation.

But that didn't happen and it wasn't even close.

As it turns out the mediation process lasted only two days and confirmed what most of us already knew -- neither the players or owners are ready to make a deal.

The sound bites coming out of both camps confirmed the sizeable gap keeping the two sides from hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement and those differences don't seem to be going anywhere.

"After spending several hours with both sides over two days, the presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said "the mediators informed the parties that they did not think it was productive to continue discussions."

Although it was pretty clear that non-binding mediation wasn't going to solve hockey's labor problems all by itself, the fact that it led to no progress at all can't be a good sign.

In fact, things may be bleaker now than ever in light of the failed attempt at mediating.

With the Winter Classic and All-Star weekend canceled and the regular season scrapped through Dec. 14, the players and owners should be desperate for compromise at this point. Instead, the sides appear to be only marginally closer than they were when the last CBA expired in September.

The NHL has not offered a counter-proposal since rejecting the player's offer last week and the league has shown no signs it's about to cave. If the owners don't come up with a new proposal soon than it appears the NHLPA will be forced to decertify.

By going the decertification route, the NHLPA will be waive its right to collectively bargain as a union and instead focus on attacking the league with lawsuits. If you didn't think there was enough legalese to sift through already just wait until decertification really lets the lawyers get involved.

For the few optimists remaining out there, one piece of news that came out Thursday could be interpreted as promising. That information was relayed by TSN's Darren Dreger, who through his Twitter account revealed that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman proposed to Fehr a meeting that involved owners and players only, without interference from league or union brass.

However, just like with mediation the only reason to be optimistic about a meeting between players and owners is because it hasn't been tried during the current dispute. So, pretty much the same reason people felt mediation could only help negotiations and not hurt them.

It's pretty clear that both sides locked in this staring contest are running out of options that could bring an end to this conflict. With close to 35 percent of the regular season already lost it's getting more and more difficult to believe a solution can be reached before the entire campaign is lost.

After all, if a third-party mediator can't see any way to bring the owners and players closer together can we really believe the sides can do it on their own?

Cue track 1 of Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" because "it's not dark yet, but it's getting there."

November 30, 2012, at 12:19 PM ET
<-- NHL, NHLPA meet again with federal mediators, to no avail
NHL owners and players to meet Tuesday -->

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