Shannon on NHL: Reason for optimism

It’s been difficult to be optimistic.

And yet, there was a growing feeling as the hours ticked by on Tuesday that things had to be improving.

“They’re still meeting right?”

“That can’t be a bad thing, right?”

No one stormed out. No one pouted in front of the TV cameras. So when Steve Fehr and Bill Daly, jointly, announced there was cautious optimism and that talks were “constructive” and meetings were going to continue Wednesday morning, it was hard not to be optimistic. But there is a long way to go. There has to be a long way to go, because otherwise we should have had a new CBA last August.

NHL lockout update: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will address the media at approximately 1 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon. Watch live in HD on & on all Sportsnet regional channels. Listen live on Sportsnet 590 The Fan & Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

Tuesday’s meeting was not supposed to be a bargaining session. It was meant to be a head-to-head discussion between owners and players. New faces, new voices on the owners’ side: Ron Burkle, Mark Chipman, Larry Tanenbaum and Jeff Vinik were to join Murray Edwards and Jeremy Jacobs to explain why the owners couldn’t move any more. The players, 18 strong, were to explain why the $211-million transitional payment just wasn’t enough to get a deal done. What appears to have happened is that both sides moved. Maybe it was on the money or perhaps the contracting issues (term and variance); never the less, both sides appear to have moved. Hence the optimism.

But let’s not plan the first road trip just yet. Wednesday morning’s session that will precede the NHL Board of Governors meeting will now carry the weight of that optimism. Both sides will have taken about nine hours to sleep on their position and really decide if there truly is movement, or has it been a mirage. The second session will also continue without Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr front and center, or at least they won’t be in the room. Day 1, both men were present in their own meeting rooms, caucusing with their groups and awaiting updates on a regular basis. So, while they weren’t really there, they were constantly around.

This was certainly the longest meeting between the two sides since the talks began as sputtering, rhetoric spewing media availabilities. And the fact that the brief post-meeting press conference was one that both Steve Fehr and Bill Daly spoke at together projected a new spirit, for at least a day. For the first time, it appears they truly are speaking the same language and showing a genuine desire to have an abbreviated NHL season start sooner rather than later. Hence the optimism.

Who got the sides speaking as one? Burkle? Sidney Crosby? It certainly appears that the Pittsburgh contingent has made a real contribution to the process. Perhaps it will all come out in the wash or it will grow to mythic proportions for years to come. But one thing for sure, the optimism is real. It appears as though both sides want to get a deal done.

And while the optimism has to be guarded for sure, for the first time in the process there is a belief that a real negotiation is going on. And that’s a good thing. And for at least a few hours, it’s not as difficult to be optimistic.