Donald Fehr, wearing his reading glasses and not his photo op glasses. Promising.
The NHL and NHLPA met again on Thursday at their secret location in Manhattan (which turned out to be law firm Proskauer Rose, home of sports labour specialists Bob Batterman and Howard Ganz and where Gary Bettman was once employed). This makes three days in a row the two sides have met without one side trying to light the other on fire (which can happen in disputes), and that's good news.
But the best news, if you're hoping for progress in these negotiations, is that the NHL and NHLPA are headed for day four of uninterrupted negotiations, and yet neither side is talking.
Yes, they're talking to each other. But they're not talking to anyone else, and it's a refreshing change of pace.
On a day when some of the touchier issues landed on the agenda -- make whole, revenue sharing, the players' allotment of revenue -- the fact that neither Bettman nor Fehr had anything to say to the media today should make hockey fans do cartwheels. As we've seen over the past two months, the moment either one of these guys announces a conferences call, sets up a podium, or stops to talk to the throng, they have no intention of doing anything other than present some bad news as the others guy's fault.
Not so on a big Thursday in New York. Here's Bettman and Fehr addressing the media on their way home for the day. From the Canadian Press:
"I don't really have much to say," said Bettman. "We met with the players' association the last three days and we're planning on meeting again tomorrow. But I'm not going to discuss the negotiations or the substance of what we're talking about.
"I really don't think that would be helpful for the process."
Fehr was similarly tight-lipped.
"All I can say is that we discussed a wide range of topics relating to the issues between us," he said. "I really can't say more than that at this point."
The most substantive quote Gary Bettman gave on today's discussions: "I don't know what Don Fehr said, but the fact is we have a lot of work to do and we're working hard."
Most outlets have run with the back half of this quote. "We have a lot of work to do," says Bettman. "We're working hard," says Bettman.
But frankly, it's the independent clause at the beginning that should excite hockey fans: "I don't know what Don Fehr said."
For two months, hockey fans have had to endure P.R. posturing from both the players and the owners as they tried to win the public over. Back in September, there's simply no way that Bettman gives a quote as flippant as this one, because he spent less time negotiating and more time concerned with exactly what Don Fehr said. There was a lot of talking to the press earlier in this lockout. Very little was said.
On Thursday night, very little was said, but it spoke volumes.
In fact, according to Pierre Lebrun, if Bettman and Fehr were curt, it's because they had a long night of cramming for Friday's sessions ahead of them. From ESPN:
Both sides went back to work Thursday night in separate internal meetings for each side, cramming for the next day's meeting.
That's called negotiating. There's an actual back and forth happening. It's what should have happened a month ago, maybe two months ago, but the pressure of two months' worth of canceled games has finally pushed each side to stop the posturing and actually have meaningful negotiation.
For once, thank God, it would appear that both sides are done with that nonsense and focused on actually making some headway. There may be hope yet that the next time either Bettman or Fehr talks to the press, it will be to actually say something.