(Reuters) - The National Hockey League and locked-out players have agreed to allow U.S. federal mediators assist in negotiations when labor talks resume in hopes of ending a costly lockout in time to salvage what is left of the season.
George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), said on Monday he assigned the mediators to help end a lockout that has been in place since mid-September and resulted in the cancellation of 34 percent of the NHL's regular season schedule.
"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," Cohen said in a statement.
"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."
Deputy director Scot L. Beckenbaugh, director of mediation services John Sweeney and commissioner Guy Serota were initially assigned to the case, according to the FMCS statement.
Serota has since been removed from the assignment because of an issue involving an allegedly hacked Twitter account that is associated with the commissioner.
"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," Cohen said in a separate statement.
While the mediation process is non-binding, which means the NHL and its players do not have to agree to recommendations from mediators, it is hoped fresh ideas might kickstart negotiations that have since reached a stalemate.
The NHL, which last week chopped another two weeks off the regular season schedule along with January's All-Star Weekend, has said the lockout is costing it $18-$20 million a day.
The NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) is considering decertification, according to reports, which would allow individual players to take their fight to the courts.
The three mediators are expected to meet with both sides on Wednesday with the league and players at odds over how to split $3.3 billion in hockey related revenue.
While both sides have agreed in principle to a 50-50 split of hockey related revenue, they remain at odds over how they will reach the target.
Owners are demanding an immediate reduction from the 57 percent players received under the previous agreement while the union would like to see the cuts brought in gradually.
"The NHLPA has agreed to the addition of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to our ongoing negotiations," NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said in a statement.
"We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners."
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue