It’s nice to be wrong

Jonathan Willis
December 04 2012 10:59PM

An NHL lockout is a cynical business, with two extremely rich parties fighting for a wicked pile of cash. The most recent edition has been particularly galling, with two sides seemingly able to agree on a myriad of issues but unwilling to bridge the small gap between them.

Given that, naturally I was cynical about the December 4 meeting between players and owners – without the presence of league commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. I thought it likely to be an empty ploy without hope of succeeding. And to be clear: it hasn’t succeeded yet. But for the first time in quite a while, things are looking up.

The meeting started around 2:00 PM Eastern. It ran through the afternoon, and into the evening. The two sides separated for dinner, and then met some more. Finally, just after midnight, the meeting wrapped up and some of the participants came out to talk to the media. Bill Daly represented the league; Steve Fehr the union.

Then something strange happened. They addressed the assembled throngs together. Lots of reporters tweeted the quotes; here they are as passed along by the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott:

Steve Fehr: “It may have been the best day we've had so far. I don't want to paint too rosy of a picture, however. A lot of work remains to be done.”

Bill Daly: “I want to thank the players and owners for being there and we're going to work hard and try to get a deal."

It isn’t a lot, really. Steve Fehr talks about the amount of work left to be done. Bill Daly says they’re going to work hard. And given that the league and NHLPA seemed to be on a roll with a series of meetings previously, it’s important not to get too carried away: the lockout is not over, and a resolution does not appear imminent.

With that said, both sides seem positive. People like John Shannon with Sportsnet reported during a break that the owners’ side was optimistic. Larry Brooks of the New York Post and Aaron Ward of TSN, both tightly connected with the players’ side reported much the same from the union.

There are lots of ways to look at what happened in New York on Tuesday. Maybe removing the chief combatants and letting the rank and file go at the issues broke the deadlock. Maybe the league planned to push the union as far as they could and then get conciliatory as soon as the season was in real danger – Gary Bettman arranged this meeting after all. Maybe this is yet another soap bubble that will collapse on itself once it comes time to calculate dollars and cents.

But one thing is clear: this meeting was not a waste of time. And it might even be the beginning of the end.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.