With the two biggest egos in the negotiations to end the NHL lockout out of the room, the league and Players' Association apparently made their first progress in weeks toward ending the 81-day labor war.
Face-to-face talks between owners and players — without commissioner Gary Bettman or union executive director Don Fehr — went late into Tuesday night at a New York hotel.
Reports called the talks substantive and said players were cautiously optimistic that progress was made toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
Union counsel Steve Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly even held a joint news conference.
"It was maybe the best day we've had," Steve Fehr told reporters, "but lots of work to be done."
Meetings will continue today, again without Bettman and Don Fehr. The Board of Governors also is to meet.
The Lightning was well-represented at the meetings with Jeff Vinik among six owners who attended, and wings Marty St. Louis and B.J. Crombeen among 18 players, who also included Penguins star Sidney Crosby and Rangers and former Lightning center Brad Richards.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle and Vinik were voices of reason. It is believed Vinik, while wanting the best financial deal possible for owners, wants a season to be played.
The article characterized Vinik as "a favorite" of Burkle, who believes the league may not recover from a second season in eight years lost to a labor dispute.
The sides met for more than five hours in an initial session, broke for dinner then got back to it, though meetings were characterized more as an exchange of ideas than a negotiation.
The most interesting news, though, was that the absence of Bettman and Fehr, according to reports, lowered the tension and distrust between the sides that had grown over time.
While players have said they would agree to a 50-50 split of revenues — they received 57 percent last season — they also want all current contracts honored, something at which the owners have balked.
There also have been divides on player contract rules and how much to expand revenue sharing between the teams.
Games through Dec. 14 have been canceled as has the Jan. 1 Winter Classic and the All-Star Game. Daly has said games could be played about 10 days after a deal is reached.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]