Federal mediation time for NHL, NHLPA; will this end the lockout?

The NHL lockout talks are in a stalemate. The NHLPA has been chatting up the idea of decertification, which could lead to a prolonged court battle with the League. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and the two sides took one on Monday:

Federal Mediation.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is an independent U.S. government agency that specializes in labor disputes. George H. Cohen, a federal mediator and director of FMCS, had participated in both the NBA and NFL lockouts. As late as Nov. 1, he told ESPN.com that he had contact with both the owners and the players in the NHL lockout.

His agency released the following statement today:

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George H. Cohen issued the following statement today on the ongoing labor negotiations between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association:

"I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement. At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under our auspices. I have assigned Deputy Director Scot L. Beckenbaugh, Director of Mediation Services John Sweeney, and Commissioner Guy Serota to serve as the mediators."

"Due to the extreme sensitivity of these negotiations and consistent with the FMCS's long-standing practice, the Agency will refrain from any public comment concerning the future schedule and/or the status of the negotiations until further notice."

Essentially, this is the players and owners looking for guidance on how to settle this dispute from a third party.

Edit: It will no longer be Guy Serota, as his interesting Twitter feed has gotten him removed from the case. But we'll never forget forget your contributions, guy. Sorry, I'm calling you "guy" because I forget your name. What was it again? Here's the FCMS statement:

Within one hour after I issued a press release announcing that further negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA would be conducted under the auspices of the FMCS, it has been called to my attention that there are issues involving an allegedly hacked Twitter account associated with Commissioner Guy Serota, one of the mediators I assigned. Accordingly, in order to immediately dispel any cloud on the mediation process, and without regard to the merits of the allegations, I have determined to take immediate action, namely to remove Commissioner Serota from this assignment."

"There will be no further comment from the FMCS on this matter.

Sigh. Moving on.

Said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to the Star Tribune:

"The FMCS reached out to both sides independently, and apparently we both agreed that we are prepared to explore the process. I have no level of expectation at this point. We'll see how it goes and perhaps something good will come of it."

As Bob McKenzie of TSN reports, the mediation is not binding, and that's key: This isn't going to be a mediator issuing a ruling that'll end the lockout.

In fact, it could be a harbinger of doom.

Please recall back in 2004-05, when federal mediators were brought in to bridge the gap between the NHL and the NHLPA. From Philly.com:

Representatives from the league and the NHL Players' Association were in Washington yesterday for an emergency meeting with federal mediators in an attempt to save the season. But the meeting failed to bring about progress, both sides confirmed.

Either tomorrow or Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to formally announce that he is canceling the 2004-05 season.

"I don't think a cancel announcement would be made as early as [today]," Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, said yesterday afternoon. "There are still some things we're waiting on."

As for the meeting in Washington . . .

"It's a federal-mediator conference, and we're bound by law not to comment on it," said Ted Saskin, senior director for the union.

Keep in mind that this mediation end-game happened in February.

It's still early enough in the lockout that this could, in theory, put the two sides on the road to a settlement. Or it could result in the mediator going "LOLZ, WUT?!" when the NHL tries to claim it's giving the players massive concessions, Donald Fehr gives the Nelson Muntz laugh and then the whole thing goes to hell.

We wrote about pressure points earlier in the day. The NHL's sponsors suffering through a hockey-less holiday season is one of them. The NHLPA's threat — a very real one, according to players we've spoken to on background — to decertify is another.

Perhaps we are seeing the end game for this lockout finally in focus. Or we're seeing two sides with nowhere else to turn.