NEW YORK – NHL labor talks that began in the daylight hours Wednesday stretched to nearly nine hours and both sides plan to meet again Thursday.
It isn't known what progress – if any – was been made during the second straight day of marathon talks in the dispute that is threatening the entire hockey season, but owners and players surely sense that time is now a factor and a deal must be made soon to get the game back on the ice.
Negotiations resumed Wednesday and stretched deep into the night again, this time in fits and starts, as the league and the players' association searched for an agreement. The sides began talks a little after 2 p.m. and kept going through the night, except for a two-hour dinner break.
Talks Tuesday lasted about eight hours and wrapped up at midnight, with the promise that negotiations would continue Wednesday.
Very little information leaked out of the meeting room, but it is believed that each side submitted proposals to the other and spent lots of time apart discussing what was offered. One point of contention is the ultimate length of the new contract, with owners looking for a 10-year pact, and players wanting a shorter term.
Owners often retreated to their own room one floor above the location of the bargaining session and then took the elevator back down to get talks going again. Some of the together sessions lasted as short as 15 minutes.
Cautious optimism emerged Tuesday in the first round of talks that kept NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the outside along with union executive director Donald Fehr, while six owners and about 18 players talked inside. The good feeling carried over into Wednesday morning when various team executives said they heard good reports during an NHL board of governors meeting.
Bettman spoke briefly after that, just before negotiations started again, and the sides remained silent the rest of the talks while talks were ongoing. The reemergence of a podium with a lectern featuring the NHL shield in a media workroom, sparked some hope that some sort of announcement would soon be coming. It remained unoccupied for quite some time, however it gained instant popularity on Twitter.
Bettman declined to take any questions earlier Wednesday when he stood at that podium in a Manhattan hotel. A ray of hope that a season-saving deal could be made emerged late Tuesday night after about eight hours of bargaining.
"We are pleased with the process that is ongoing, and out of respect for that process I don't have anything else to say," Bettman said.
Executives scurried on New York streets and hopped into cars after the two-hour board of governors meeting, some offering an opinion on the proceedings.
"We feel good about the information we got," new Columbus Blue Jackets President John Davidson said.
Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the six owners participating in these negotiations, also painted an optimistic picture as he walked the few blocks back to the hotel hosting the meetings.
"We're going to continue to talk up until we get a deal," said Tanenbaum, who added there is more clarity on both sides where each group stands. "All I can say is as long as we're talking we're hopeful."
If a breakthrough can be made soon, the delayed and shortened hockey season could get going quickly.
"I've always been hopeful there would be a season," said Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils president and general manager. "Right now we just have to leave it in the hands of the people that are talking."
The same negotiators participated in talks Wednesday, with minor tweaks to the large contingent of players.
Bargaining stretched on Tuesday night until about midnight, and it was clear progress was made when deputy commissioner Bill Daly stood side by side with union special counsel Steve Fehr and issued a rare joint status report. Negotiations took place in a pair of sessions that included various sized groups.
The sides are trying to avoid another lost season. The NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel a full year because of a labor dispute back in 2005. The deal reached then was in place until this September, and the lockout was enacted on Sept. 16 after that agreement expired.
The lockout reached its 81st day Wednesday. The main issues are how to split revenue and issues surrounding how player contracts are set up. The league had more than $3 billion in the 2011-12 season but an analysis by Forbes magazine recently showed a major gap between profitable teams those that operate in the red.
"We had a long day," Steve Fehr said Tuesday. "We 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 too overly optimistic of a picture. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done."
Daly echoed Fehr's comments, and spoke well of the talks.
"I appreciate the efforts of the players," Daly said. "Everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so that's encouraging. We look forward to hopefully making more progress."
That was the extent of the details revealed by the two sides, which could be another good sign that neither group wanted to say anything that could throw the discussions off the rails.
All games through Dec. 14, along with the New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game, have been wiped off the schedule.
Originally the thought was no one other than owners and players would be in attendance for Tuesday's meeting, but each side had staff present, as well. The six selected owners were Tanenbaum, Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Jacobs, considered one of the hard-line owners, and Edwards are the only members of the group of six to have taken part in previous negotiations.
The NHL had no objection for more than six players to take part, so Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Shane Doan, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Miller, Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, George Parros and Kevin Westgarth joined the union's negotiating team Tuesday.