The NHL and NHLPA could be "closing in on a deal after a long and bitter lockout, the stalemate seemingly broken by two long days of direct talks between players and owners without" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr in the room, according to Slater & Ebner of the GLOBE & MAIL. Players and owners yesterday "exchanged proposals and stayed in talks for almost nine hours before concluding after midnight, as they did on Tuesday." Key issues to be settled are "length of player contracts and length of the collective agreement, with owners gunning for a decade and players thinking half that." Sources said that while the "momentum in the player-owner talks was positive, the situation is 'fluid.'" One source said that should a deal "be done in the next three to five days, the governors are looking at a '50-something' game schedule." Slater & Ebner note there was "optimism but there was also a worry that a misstep in talks could be severe and lead to a lost season." Still, pessimism "was fading" yesterday (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/6). In Toronto, Rob Longley notes when talks ended at 12:50am ET this morning, there was "a sense from both sides that, if they collectively pulled their act together, another lost season could be avoided." Neither side "offered many details of what was discussed," but another negotiation session is scheduled for this afternoon, "fuelling optimism at salvaging a season." Where those talks "will end -- or if -- depends on just how critical the remaining stumbling blocks are" (TORONTO SUN, 12/6).
NOT ON THE HOME STRETCH JUST YET: In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes last night's "sudden end tempered the hopefulness that had prevailed throughout the day Wednesday, when it seemed that a settlement to save the NHL season was within reach." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and six owners "shuttled back and forth hurriedly between league conference rooms and those of the union well into the evening, a sense of urgent momentum suffusing the talks for a second straight day after 11 weeks that had produced mainly stalemate and rancor." As the talks "ground late into the night, only three owners remained on the league side, and the original cast of players was reduced from about a dozen to roughly half that number." Neither side was "offering specifics on the proposals or what progress had been made." But the "apparent intensity of the negotiating suggested that the two sides had gotten down to the hard business of hammering out a settlement." Reports emerged afterward indicating that "tensions had been high at times during the long day and night of talks." Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Sabres G Ryan Miller, one of the "more militant members of the players' union, reportedly both lost their tempers during an angry exchange" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/6). In Toronto, Damien Cox notes Miller had "angrily vented when the owners said they were disappointed with the players responses to an earlier offer and threatened to pull everything off the table." But with Jacobs "poised to abandon the talks, other owners spoke up, and then both sides dramatically backed away from the precipice" (THESTAR.com, 12/6). The CP's Chris Johnston notes Jacobs also was seen "having an animated conversation" with Daly outside the negotiating room (CP, 12/6).
PROPOSAL DETAILS EMERGE: ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang notes the sides yesterday exchanged proposals, although it is "not believed the proposals resembled the formal, all-encompassing offers that have been traded -- and subsequently rejected -- in recent months." A source said that contract term limits "were part of each side's respective proposal." A source said that the NHL offered to "raise the amount of the 'Make Whole' provision, one of the key bargaining points in negotiations, to $300 million in total, up from $211 million in its last offer." The league also is "backing off contracting rights demands on unrestricted free agency age (27) and salary arbitration, offering to keep both the same." However, the league is "staying firm on asking for five-year term limits for contracts and a 5 percent salary variance; the only exception is a team signing its own free agent, in which case a contract could go to seven years in term." As details "filtered out about concessions made by the league, so did concerns about the players-owners-only format moving forward." Sources said that there is "some concern among the union's membership that the format may be an attempt to divide the players" (ESPNNY.com, 12/6).
HOW CLOSE ARE THEY REALLY? Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos yesterday said that he is "hearing a deal should be done very soon." Kypreos said, "Apparently Gary is ready to get a deal done. He wants this thing done Friday. Friday!" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/5). In Winnipeg, Ken Wiebe notes there have been "some suggestions a deal could be completed before the end of the week and that training camps might be up and running shortly after that, with game being played before or on Christmas Day" (WINNIPEG SUN, 12/6). However, in Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli notes both sides have made "such a momentous push -- likely with concessions from each -- to bridge the gap that it would not be a stretch for either one to throw their hands up in the air and walk out if it appears no deal can realistically be brokered this week." The best way to "describe the scene would be 'tense'" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 12/6). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes the two sides "desperately want to make a deal." Things nearly "blew up Wednesday evening but the NHL and NHLPA did not take their toys and go home." Instead, they "turned the other cheek, persevered and kept at it." However, things remain "at a very delicate stage." The contract term limit is "a tough pill to swallow for the players." LeBrun: "It you're the players, though, you’ve got $300 million now in Make Whole money, which frankly was the total all along I think the union was eyeing when it asked for $383 million two weeks ago" (ESPN.com, 12/6). SI.com's Sarah Kwak wrote the reality is that "little concrete progress was made into Wednesday, no numbers agreed upon." There are still issues "large and small that have not been settled, and they will not be easy to settle." But the league is "still in a better position than it was 48 hours ago" (SI.com, 12/5).
PENGUIN POWER: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes Penguins C Sidney Crosby's involvement in the current dispute "represents such an unusual departure" for a star. But Crosby "jumped into the fray with both feet this past week after being part of the process on the edges." It was his presence at Tuesday’s meeting, opposite Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle, that "helped the process gain a small bit of traction after a long stalemate." There are "no guarantees that it’ll turn into anything tangible, but it is almost unprecedented for someone of his stature to get so actively involved in the negotiations rather than abdicating the responsibility to obscure enforcers with Ivy League degrees, or fringe players who aspire to study law" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/6). Penguins RW Craig Adams said that the players involved in the talks "have a particular appreciation for what Crosby has contributed to getting the talks moving in a positive direction." Adams: "He's been very involved in the process throughout. Obviously, he continues to stay involved and engaged. The other players are glad to have him in there" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/6). Hurricanes C Jordan Staal, a member of the Penguins from '06-12, said that he "liked the thought of Burkle being involved for the first time." Staal: "I was happy that new ownership came into the room. (Burkle) is a great guy and understands what's going on in the business world. And he truly does care about us playing and getting the league back on the ice" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/6). In Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevic writes Burkle "really has been the buzz of this round of talks." Penguins co-Owner & Chair Mario Lemieux "really has been tugging strings behind the scenes, from testing other teams for alliances to straying from his norm and showing up on the national stage when the sport needs him." Crosby, "always above and beyond in any walk of life, really has been prodding on his own fronts" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/6).
RIGHT MOVE TO STEP BACK: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes Bettman has "insisted he'll do anything to get the game back on the ice and that's why he made the move to step back" from CBA talks with the NHLPA. A source yesterday said, "It was a smart move. Not only did Bettman take himself out of the room, he also got Fehr out of the room and that may lead to a deal." Garrioch writes Bettman's message was "simple to the governors: He'll do anything for the good of the game and that's why he decided to go this route." The decision to "bow out couldn't have come at a better time." The governors yesterday were "ready to pounce in the meeting because they wanted to send a message to Bettman it was time to get a deal done." The players "don't love Bettman either" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/6). ESPN.com's Craig Custance wrote Bettman "might have saved the season with his idea to step away from the negotiating table along with" Fehr. After a "line of strategies that haven't worked, including mediation and numerous failed proposals, this strategy appears to have given us the most headway yet towards the possibility of a hockey season" (ESPN.com, 12/5). QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson wrote under the header, "New Approach To NHL CBA Talks Seems To Be Working" (QMI AGENCY, 12/5).
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "Credit Bettman for understanding that with the season hanging in the balance, the air had become so toxic in those rare moments the two sides actually found enough reason to be in the same room that the loathing and mistrust trumped all other issues and that the two men stepping back would allow that air to be cleared." Likewise, "credit Fehr, whose plodding strategies had made league officials crazy during this process, for going along with the idea even though his first reaction must have been to tell Bettman to stuff it" (ESPN.com, 12/5). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher writes this is "how good a job Fehr's done." In an interchange that was "always going to be one way with the NHL taking and the players giving, Fehr at least restrained his troops long enough for the league to move off its take-it-or-leave-it position." And in that sense it "might be said he's done a decent job frustrating the usual Bettman strategy of waiting while the players negotiate against themselves" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/6).