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Union, league too far apart for mediators Bettman proposes ?players-owners session

They're running out of ideas on how to find labor peace in the NHL. They're running out of time, too.

The latest round of negotiations between the league and the NHL Players' Association came to an unsuccessful end Thursday when mediators decided they could not help the quarreling parties. The sides met with members of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for consecutive days but got no closer to a collective bargaining agreement.

"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," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

The talks with a third party were viewed as a long shot by most, including Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.

"It's good to have an outside perspective, but I just think it's more one side just has to win," Miller told TSN in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he took part in a minicamp hosted by Phoenix captain Shane Doan. "It's not going to be about give-and-take or the good of the game anymore. It's just they've got to win.

"I don't know how it's going to finish up."

It's likely more games will be canceled before a deal is reached. The schedule has already been wiped out through Dec. 14. Based on past cancellation dates, the sides need to come together on a new CBA before next Friday or more games will get axed.

No negotiations are scheduled, though the NHL has proposed a new meeting dynamic. Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested to NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr that owners and players talk directly without league or union representatives present.

"Nothing else has worked," Daly told reporters. "The commissioner felt that we might as well propose something different."

An NHLPA spokesman said the union first needed to discuss the mediation process and potential next steps with its executive board and negotiating committee before commenting on the league's idea.

Daly said in an email to The Buffalo News that specifics regarding which owners or players would be present had not yet been discussed.

"Let's see if the idea has traction first," he wrote.

One possible action for the union is petitioning for decertification. The NHLPA is the exclusive bargaining representative for the players, and its dissolution would essentially make the lockout illegal.

Decertification brings myriad other legal questions into the equation, however, and Daly has said the season would likely be lost if players went that route.

The sides seem headed toward that path anyway.

"It's very frustrating that we can't have a true partnership," Miller told reporters in Arizona.

"The game was doing well. If it needed a tweak or two, we were more than willing to listen, but it seems everyone's on guard and no one trusts the other party. It's been going like that for years. It's tough."

The sides have narrowed their financial gap during recent talks but remain far apart on player contracting rights, including free agency, contract lengths and values, and arbitration.

"I just don't want to see us go backward as far as the rights we've built over the last 50 years," Miller told TSN, the Canadian sports network. "That's the main thing for me. Money-wise, it is what it is.

"To the fans, we appreciate the patience and we know we make money to play hockey, but when you look back on the history of the NHLPA and the rights of players, it took a long time to get to the point where we had these contracting rights and we have the kind of lifestyle we have. We're just ensuring the game is fair for everyone who puts it on the line every night. We just want to see a fair deal for everybody."