Skip to main content
nhl lockout

Scot Beckenbaugh leaves a news conference following the end of talks in the NBA labour negotiations, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in New York.Louis Lanzano/The Associated Press

The man credited with helping the National Hockey League and its players union salvage the remainder of the 2012-13 season is a soft-spoken public servant with roots in the American Midwest.

Scot L. Beckenbaugh, 59, is the U.S. government mediator being widely lauded for rescuing soured talks between the NHL and its players and bringing both parties back to the table Saturday for marathon negotiations that produced a tentative settlement Sunday.

A deputy director at the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Mr. Beckenbaugh intervened Friday to put things back on track during separate meetings with both parties. He spent 12 hours on Jan. 4 in New York shuttling back and forth between NHL headquarters and the Sofitel hotel where union representatives were gathered, trying to bridge the divide.

The shuttle diplomacy paid off Saturday afternoon when he brought both sides together for 16 more hours of discussions, which lasted until Sunday morning, when an agreement in principle was announced shortly after 6 a.m. ET. It must still be ratified by players and owners.

Mr. Beckenbaugh is developing a reputation as the go-to guy for stalemated pro-sports labour disputes. He helped end the National Football League referees strike last fall. He was among those called upon to assist with National Basketball Association labour talks in 2011, as well as Major League Soccer negotiations in 2010, and the unsuccessful attempt to rescue the NHL's 2004-05 season.

Mediators, as University of Michigan sports management professor Rodney Fort explains, are like marriage counsellors. Their skills lie in keeping both sides on track.

Other mediators say Mr. Beckenbaugh, a native of Illinois who attended university in Iowa, is exceptionally good at this.

Daniel Nielsen, a Chicago-area mediator-arbitrator who has known Mr. Beckenbaugh for 30 years, describes him as without peer on the continent. "You've got the best mediator in North America working on that," Mr. Nielsen said of the NHL dispute.

He said Mr. Beckenbaugh began his dispute resolution career at the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board, a body that arbitrates disputes related to government employee contracts. The former administrative law judge eventually joined the federal mediation and conciliation service in 1988.

He went on to mediate master contracts across a multitude of sectors, from aluminum to heavy equipment manufacturing to meatpacking.

Mr. Nielsen was reluctant to reveal much about Mr. Beckenbaugh's personal background, saying only that he's "very private."

Players praised Mr. Beckenbaugh's tenacity Sunday after the tentative deal was announced.

"He did a great job of keeping the sides going. That was probably the biggest part," Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan told reporters in a New York scrum Sunday. "I've been told by family and friends: 'Lock yourself in a room and don't come out.' And the mediator kind of did that – and that was huge."

Mr. Nielsen said media accounts of what took place sound like "old-fashioned, collective bargaining – nothing fancy."

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey, part of the union negotiating team, told reporters that Mr. Beckenbaugh helped players sound out proposals.

"Scot was great for a number of reasons," Mr. Hainsey told reporters. "When it got to points where you didn't know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn't know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process."

With files from Associated Press, Canadian Press and New York Times News Service

Interact with The Globe