The meeting between NHL players and owners on Tuesday in New York City — held without the presence of commissioner Gary Bettman or union chief Donald Fehr in the room — was previewed rather pessimistically by pundits.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News called it a Hail Mary pass: "A stroke of genius with huge rewards if it works, but one that results in failure on the vast majority of attempts."
But several hours of talks produced something rarely seen lately in the NHL lockout: a hint of optimism and a symbolic solidarity between the league and its players union.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Steve Fehr of the NHLPA met the media jointly just after midnight, the first time representatives from the players and the owners have done so during the lockout.
"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," Fehr said, before tempering expectations, "which isn't to paint too overly-optimistic a picture. There's still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done, but we will be back at it tomorrow morning."
Via Helene Elliott of the LA Times, Daly said:
"I want to thank the players and owners for being there and we're going to work hard and try to get a deal."
Elliott reports that the players and owners are expected to meet before the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday.
The players/owners meeting was a suggestion from Bettman and an attempt to spark dialogue between the sides through new voices. For the owners, it was a six-person panel: Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs; Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards; Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle; Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik; Toronto Maple Leafs owner Larry Tannenbaum; and Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman.
The NHLPA was repped by 18 players in the meeting: Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, Sidney Crosby, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, Ryan Miller, George Parros, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Toews and Kevin Westgarth.
One major influence on the meeting: Crosby and Burkle, who worked together prior to the meeting on finding common ground to present to both sides. Whatever happened in the room, it's produced some much-needed good vibes. From Michael Russo of the Star Tribune:
I've texted back and forth with a handful of players tonight. None of the players were in the meetings, but some were on a conference call that was very positive. These players are anxiously paying attention.
Of course, until the two men who weren't in the room -- Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr -- agree there is traction, progress and reason to be optimistic, it all could be for naught.
True, but it's clear both sides are now engaged and working hard to find a deal. The NHLPA has decertification looming. The owners wanted this thing done by now, and may hold Bettman accountable in their meeting on Wednesday.
The optimism is cautious, for sure; but not unwarranted.