Gary Bettman is set to meet with every NHL owner on Wednesday as crucial discussions between the league and players continue, with the season and the remaining health of the NHL hanging in the balance.
Those two words seem to be the theme of the past 24 hours, as a meeting that no one thought had a chance of ever working appears to have created some actual positive traction in the ongoing NHL labor talks. Six owners and 18 players met for just over 10 hours on Tuesday night in New York City as it seems that cooler heads finally started to make some noise amidst the cacophony of idiocy that led us to this point in the first place.
Reports of Sidney Crosby and Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle apparently finding a way to wade through the maze of hardliners have come out since last night, with Crosby being hailed as a "voice of reason" amongst the players. Burkle, in particular, was praised for being able to bridge the gap between the sides and finally create some sense of trust between the players and owners.
That he was able to do that with Jeremy Jacobs and Bill Daly in the room is nothing short of a miracle.
All along it has been said that for this lockout to end one owner would need to rise above the rest and get things moving forward. Patriots owner Robert Craft was instrumental in ending the NFL lockout while James Dolan was a big reason for the NBA having a season last year. Dolan pushed hard to be involved in yesterday's meeting with the players but it was Burkle, who lobbied personally to be present, who appears to have spearheaded the breakthrough.
While positive momentum has been found and media with ties on both sides of the tracks are expressing optimism, there remains a long ways to go before we're seeing hockey at the American Airlines Center anytime soon. None of these discussions have involved Donald Fehr or Gary Bettman and as such are nothing close to actual "negotiations," where the real bargaining on a new deal is taking place. Until those two become involved once more, an actual agreement being made will not happen.
The players and owners are currently meeting once more without Bettman and Fehr present, in advance of a very important NHL Board of Governors meeting. It is at this meeting, most likely, where the true fate of the season will be decided even as talks continue between the two sides. It's been reported that a number of owners are upset with the process and that while the hardline owners have backed Bettman to this point, a number of "moderate" owners could make their frustrations known as the lockout continues into December.
There is also the fact that the season is likely hanging in the balance with this meeting and the discussions taking place between the two sides today. Before positive momentum was reported last night, Bettman was expected to report to the BoG with a "drop dead date," a day that signifies the cancellation of the season if no resolution is in sight. There is a chance, however, that armageddon will be pushed back just a bit if traction is indeed being found between the players and owners.
Gary Bettman was originally set to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. ET after the conclusion of the BoG meeting, although now it is being reported that it is being postponed so that negotiations can continue this afternoon.
If there were ever a moment in this disastrous mess where we could say "they're finally trying to work on an actual deal," then this would be it. Long meetings with actual and positive discussions, the two sides standing side by side and saying "we're working on it," while press conferences are delayed for more talks to continue. All of it points to a deal being reached soon, and hockey finally being played once more.
That all being said, this season still hangs on a precipitous balance. As soon as Fehr and Bettman get involved and proposals are once again placed on the table, everything could quickly regress. It seems that both the owners and players are cautious about what is happening, as they should be, but everyone involved appears to finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
In the end, however, questions remain over just how damaged the NHL has become from this debacle. That's an answer, however, that will have to wait.