NEW YORK – It was an odd sight.
Standing side by side comfortably for perhaps the first time since the lockout began was a representative from the players' association alongside a representative of the league.
Concluding a lengthy day of CBA talks between owners and players at a midtown Manhattan hotel – union head Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman were absent from the meetings – NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly appeared together in front of assembled media with an unusual air of co-operation.
“We had a long day obviously,” said Fehr of the talks. “I thought it was a constructive day. We had a good dialogue. In some ways I'd say it might be the best day we've had, which isn't to paint too overly optimistic of a picture; there's still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done but we will be back at it [Wednesday] morning.”
“Obviously I appreciate the efforts of the players in particular,” added Daly, looking worn but sounding optimistic. “I think everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done so I think that's encouraging. We look forward to hopefully making more progress [Wednesday].”
Negotiations until this point had failed at every turn, including most recently an ill-fated and short-lived attempt at mediation. Following those fruitless talks - with the threat of another lost season looming and resentment deepening - the league approached the players with a new idea, remove the two respective leaders from the soured process and have the players and owners negotiate independently. After some consideration, players acceded to the proposal.
Six representatives for the owners were present at the meetings; Jeremy Jacobs (Boston) and Murray Edwards (Calgary) among the established guard, joined by fresh voices that included Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg), Jeffrey Vinik (Tampa Bay) and Larry Tannenbaum (Toronto). They were met across the table by a diverse group of players, which included Sidney Crosby, Ryan Miller, Shane Doan, Jonathan Toews, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards.
Hopeful tones and cautious optimism emerged from the talks, which began at 2 p.m., stretched for five and a half hours, halted for dinner and then continued well past the midnight hour. More conversations were in the works for Wednesday with an NHL Board of Governors meeting scheduled at 11 a.m.
The NHL has canceled 422 games this season.