Stop me if you've heard this one before.
The NHL and the NHLPA are set to meet on Wednesday at an undisclosed location in what was originally likely meant to be a rather secret gathering. According to nearly every single hockey media personality, federal mediators are going to be involved once again, while no owners will be present. The NHL will be represented by Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and some lawyers while nearly a dozen players will be in attendance along with Donald and Steve Fehr.
Ryan Miller will not be present. Ron Hainsey will, however.
Did anyone even know who Ron Hainsey was before the lockout? Turns out he has a five-year contract with the Jets worth $22.5 million. Whodathunkit.
The usual conjecture surrounds this meeting once more, with rumblings from both sides about how a deal is "close" with some even passing along some interesting scuttlebutt from those with the league:
The consensus among NHL management types/agents here this morning is that there will definitely be a resolution to the lockout, and soon.— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) December 12, 2012
We've seen that optimism before from the league, especially last week right before the players put whipped cream all over the owners' proposal and threw it back into their faces.
What is good is that they are actually meeting again, less than a week after a circus played out in front of a millions of fans where it went from looking like a deal was imminent to looking like the season would be canceled in less than three minutes of time. If you weren't present for that ordeal, then you're much better off for it.
The other interesting fact here is that federal mediators will be present once more. This says that the NHL obviously sees some sore of value to mediators being involved once more, especially since that means details and information leaking will be kept at a minimum.
To this increasingly-cynical mind, all of this just follows what is clearly now a very set timeline for these negotiations. A deal was never going to be reached in time for hockey to resume in December, although I think some were surprised with how close they came last week. The NHLPA has been stalling and waiting for a deadline and while the NHL has not officially set one, it's obvious that both sides realize that we're reaching a critical point.
No matter how it is being spun, the players returning from overseas in droves right now speaks to this preparation. They're working out in bigger and bigger groups and practices are getting more intense. We had known Jamie Benn was returning from Germany for a little while now and while it's said he's returning if the lockout continues, from what we can tell he's not exactly preparing to go back anytime soon.
But this could all still fall apart. Both sides have shown to be too emotional over the business side of this deal, which is likely why mediators could work this time. They are very close to a deal and throwing the season away over contractual details and term limits would be horrifically stupid.
My opinion? They'll reach a deal in the next two weeks and play resumes in the first week of January.