The NHL and its players’ association have gone weeks without talking for much of the lockout. They’ve suddenly become chatterboxes. They are set for their fourth straight day of meetings Friday in New York.
Whether all that talk will lead to a season is still to be determined.
“The fact is we have a lot of work to do, and we’re working hard,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters tonight in Manhattan. “My hope is that we can achieve the goal of getting a long-term, fair agreement in place as quickly as possible so we can play hockey.”
Neither Bettman nor Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, would assess whether the sides are any closer to a collective bargaining agreement.
“We’re working and in a process now of a series of meetings,” Bettman said. “Hopefully, it leads us to the right place.”
The union made two offers to the league Wednesday night, according to the Canadian Press, and the NHL responded today. It’s expected the players will answer back Friday.
“You hear things and you need to think about it, you need to work on it,” Fehr told reporters. “You need to formulate an appropriate response. Sometimes that becomes more difficult if you talk publicly about it before you've gone through the work.
“I'm not going to characterize it except to say as I have before that it's always better when you're meeting than when you're not.”
The sides met for five hours today, bringing their three-day total to about 18 hours. Prior to Tuesday, their last formal negotiation was Oct. 18.
Both parties were full of bluster following that ill-fated meeting, but they’ve been almost silent as to whether this round of talks has been productive or not. If Friday’s negotiations fail to lead toward a compromise, though, it’s possible the meetings could stop again.
“It’s very tough to handicap,” Bettman said. “Every day that passes I think is critical for the game and for our fans.”
The sides had been meeting in an “undisclosed location” all week, but reporters discovered the hideout today. It was a Midtown law office that represents the league and once employed Bettman.
“How did you find us?” Bettman asked with grin. “You followed the players? Oooh, who did you follow?”
After not receiving an answer, the commissioner chuckled and said, “You don’t give up your sources?”