The reports of an end to the lockout at the beginning of this week got hockey fans excited, and both NHL owners and players are doing their part to keep the momentum moving forward.
With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr both absent from the proceedings, the players and owners met in two separate sessions at the Westin in New York City that lasted about eight hours. According to a source with knowledge of the discussions, Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle has been a key figure in the meetings while attempting to bridge the considerable gap between the two sides.
There seems to be a good vibe to the meetings, said one NHL player, who was not present at the meetings. Lets just hope that it continues.
A group of 18 NHL players and six NHL owners including principal owners from the Bruins, Lightning, Penguins, Jets, Flames and Maple Leafs sat down for the meetings that skeptics saw as a PR stunt orchestrated by the league, but in reality became a place where the two sides appeared to gain some traction.
There appears to be some effort being made by both the players and the owners to get a CBA completed prior to Wednesdays Board of Governors meeting, so that the full group of NHL owners can potentially ratify something this week. If that were to be the case perhaps the NHL could start the regular season as soon as Dec. 15 when it appeared just as likely the entire season could be cancelled if there wasnt a drastic change in talks.
More likely the two sides will continue to bridge the gap, and move toward an agreement over the next few weeks with a possible start at the beginning of January. Whether the season starts in 10 days or three weeks, that's good news provided the progress continues.
NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly addressed the media together shortly after midnight -- the first time that has happened in negotiations. Daly said "I think everybody wants to get a deal done, which is encouraging" while crediting the players. Fehr said "it might be the best day we've had so far, but still a lot of work to be done."
According to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review NHL reporter Rob Rossi, Burkle, co-owner Mario Lemieux and superstar Sidney Crosby had begun hatching a plan over the last week to bring all sides together to end the acrimonious lockout.
Two sides began the day far apart on player contract rights, "make whole" money and other key elements to the deal, and it remains to be seen how much closer they've come to getting a deal done.