When members of the NHL and NHL Players' Association negotiating teams once again took their seats aboard the collective bargaining train this week, there was optimism from the emotionally invested, but a wait-and-see approach from the actual participants.
After a marathon session on Tuesday, the inside word from both sides on Wednesday morning was: "This will be a critical day."
Then prior to the meeting on Thursday, it was: "This could be the day it all goes off the rails."
Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sent a memo to the owners on Wednesday evening that indicated if there was no traction made on Thursday the talks could bust up.
So obviously, there were enough good vibrations to keep going after Thursday's session -- and that's the good news. After more than 20 hours of discussions in Manhattan, the train is still on its track and the two sides will sit across from one another for a fourth consecutive day on Friday.
It's a 2012 NHL lockout record.
On Wednesday, the players put forth another concept on revenue sharing that would see the bigger market teams help their smaller-market brethren in the hopes that the financially-struggling franchises could use the extra income to improve their product and increase revenues.
The players also made tweaks regarding the "make whole" provision or honouring contracts issue that the owners brought forward last month. The NHLPA expressed a willingness to a gradual decline from 57-43 per cent share of hockey-related revenues to a 50-50 split by the third year of the new agreement.
The league did not reject any of these NHLPA ideas, but instead made a counter-proposal to the players on Thursday. So even if there has been little movement this week, there has been some actual negotiations taking place. There have been plenty of back and forth conversations.
Slow train coming
This could be a case where, after two weeks of giving each other the silent treatment, the cancellation of the November schedule and the Winter Classic, neither the NHL nor the NHLPA wants to be seen as the bad boy and stomp off. So they will push on to more talks on Friday and possibly into the weekend.
"Every day that passes I think is critical," Bettman said.
There also hasn't the sniping at one other through media statements or during sidewalk sessions with reporters this week.
The troubling news, however, has been this locomotive has barely moved at this point, despite all the hours spent talking this week.
The sides have met at the offices of Proskauer-Rose law firm in Manhattan for the past three days across the street from the New York Times building. Proskauer-Rose is the same firm that the NBA and NFL employed in their recent labour disputes.
Besides the main negotiators of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and his brother Steve as well as Bettman and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly being present at the talks, players David Backes, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Ron Hainsey, Johan Hedberg, Manny Malhotra and Kevin Westgarth participated on Thursday.
Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis represented the NHL.
So where do we go from here? When can the season start? How many games will the season be?
Those answers will come in time. As long as the two sides keep meeting, keep talking, there is hope, however slow that progress has been.
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