As it is with most NHL news these days, when word broke that the two sides had agreed to federal mediation the hockey world instantly erupted into pure, vibrating optimism. Emotions flared, much as they always do when good news is hard to come by, and then quickly settled back down to a more reasonable level of expectations just a short time later.
But, with that being said, mediation can't hurt. Seriously, it can't make things any worse than they are right now. But, that doesn't mean a resolution is around the corner, or even guaranteed by the presence of federal mediators. The key phrase in all of this? "Non-binding." These are non-binding mediations, meaning either side can swat the mediatior away with a single breath. Both sides still need to come to an agreement together.
So what will a mediator do?
Well the optimistic of the bunch probably think it will go something like this:
Mediator: Gentlemen, have we tried not being idiots yet?
Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr together: Well, no. Let's give that a shot.
While the pessimists expect it to go like this:
Mediator: Hello gentle--
Bettman: Just shut up and sit in the corner.
Fehr: Yeah, you're only here to make it look like we're doing something!
The truth? It probably lies somewhere in the middle.
The fact of the matter is that the mediators can't really do anything beyond just suggesting a direction for the talks to move. It's very much like you trying to mediate a fight between two of your friends. They might listen to what you have to say, or they might brush you off.
The hope, at least initially, is that both leaders will be on their best behavior in front of the mediator on Wednesday -- when talks are supposed to continue. Then maybe they can push the egos out of the way and keep working towards a common goal.
Here's why this news needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however: The two sides used mediators twice in 2004 and still lost an entire season. So, again, there is no guarantee that this aid will even go anywhere.
But is there a difference between now and then? I do believe the two sides are closer now than they were before, but I'm not so sure the egos and emotions in the room are any smaller. In fact, the two sides might loth each other even more this time around than they did back in 2004.
So hopefully a mediator helps. Hopefully a mediator gets the two sides back on track. We'll know more soon enough, but for now I'll caution you from getting your hopes up. Go in expecting nothing, and then you can't be disappointed by bad results.