A large contingent of players got together with league leadership on Monday night and met for under two hours.
Not a whole lot was accomplished on the road to a new agreement that could get the hockey season going, but at least there was optimism that the sides would get together again—likely as soon as Tuesday.
"We talked about various things," union executive director Donald Fehr said on a chilly Manhattan sidewalk outside the NHL office. "No new proposals were made, they were not expected to be made. We had hoped to engage them in a discussion about the player contracting issues that are so important to the players. At least tonight they were unwilling to do that."
The league contends that it is waiting for the players to present a full proposal on all the major issues—including core economics and player contracting, which deals with the entry-level system, arbitration and free agency. After the request was made, the players' association asked for a break and the meeting adjourned soon after.
"We've never heard a full proposal from them," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "They have given us a variation of the same proposal on economics a couple of times and there was no change in that position. They are still suggesting that they are moving in our direction on economics, but until we know exactly what their position is on economics now, we think it's all tied together and would like to hear it all together.
"It's our position that we've made a couple comprehensive proposals in a row. We'd like to know where they are on all of the issues. We asked that they put together a comprehensive proposal for us to consider."
Union representatives, along with 18 players who were in attendance, returned to the players' association office to have further internal discussions Monday night.
The sides agreed to get back in touch on Tuesday morning, and the feeling on both ends was that it likely would lead to another face-to-face meeting.
"It's certainly a good possibility of it. I would say it's more likely than not," Fehr said.
The players wanted to put focus on the player-contract issues on Monday night before returning to specific revenue and economic areas, but the NHL wasn't interested in that because the league considers everything to be intertwined.
Neither side wants to agree to anything, or make concessions in one single area, without knowing how those will affect other parts of the CBA that still need to be negotiated.
"Our position all along has been on the player contracting issues that they become considerably more important to players as the cap becomes limited," Fehr said. "We made proposals in a couple of areas in this regard, which moved toward them, but we wanted to talk about the rest of these to see where we were. We indicated to them the last time we met and again today that if we put aside for a moment the effect of the lockout on revenues—we didn't think we were too far apart on the share—and if that was right we can back into a discussion on the revenues. We wanted to know where we were on the player contracting stuff first, and they were unwilling to do that—at least tonight."
Fehr said the NHLPA would consider the NHL's request for a full proposal, and try to figure out what the next step will be. No one would say if they thought such an offer could come on Tuesday.
Whether hockey will return soon, or at all this season, is still to be determined. The lockout entered its 65th day on Monday and has already wiped out 327 games. More cancellations could be coming soon, but the NHL hasn't said when another such announcement might be coming.
"I think every week is important in the process," Daly said. "I don't attach a particular significance to this week over last week or next week. I want to play tomorrow."
After turning down a suggestion from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to take a two-week break from negotiations, the union requested another meeting with the league. Monday night's meeting was scheduled on Saturday.
"We could've taken a couple of weeks off, I suppose," Fehr said. "It's hard for me to see how you make an agreement if you aren't talking, so you talk. Sometimes it doesn't lead anywhere, and perhaps very often it doesn't lead anywhere, but if you aren't talking it's 100 percent sure it doesn't lead anywhere.
"They were willing to have the meeting if we said we wanted to meet. That is about as far as I can go."
Daly said the NHL is always willing to listen if the players have something meaningful to say.
"We're never going to shut down the process," he said. "If they think there is a reason to meet and we can make progress, we're happy to meet. That's what we told them and that's what led to today's meeting."
It was the first bargaining session between the sides since Nov. 11, when a busy week of negotiating wrapped up with a session that lasted just over an hour and didn't produce any results. All games through Nov. 30 and the New Year's Day Winter Classic have been called off.
One area in which the NHL hasn't budged off its position is in the area of guaranteed dollars to players.
"If their proposal continues to be a guaranteed amount of player-share dollars, we have told them that that is not a proposal that is acceptable to us or would ever to be acceptable to our owners right now," Daly said. "If that continues to be where we are, we are a long way apart."
Frustration is building on both sides, and it has spilled over in recent days. The NHL has placed a gag order on its personnel throughout the league, but players are free to speak out, and are welcome to attend any bargaining sessions.
The latest verbal shot toward Bettman and Daly came on Monday when Florida Panthers forward Kris Versteeg was interviewed on a Toronto radio station.
"You've got to look for the cancers and you've got to cut out the cancers," Versteeg said during the interview. "I think when you look at Bill Daly and Gary Bettman, they've been looting this game for far too long."
Those remarks came on the heels of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Ian While, referring to the commissioner as an "idiot."
Daly publicly brushed aside the comments and chalked them up to frustration that is being felt on both sides of the lockout.
"I don't think either Gary or I take those personally," Daly said. "I understand there is a lot of frustration in this process. I'm frustrated in terms of being where we are and not playing hockey. I think that's just human nature."