Every single day in the lockout has been the "most critical day of negotiations." Every stage of this lockout has been the most "critical 24-36 hours" of this lockout.

Until tomorrow, of course.

Well, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, is the most critical day and 24-36 hours of the fun that is the third NHL lockout in 18 years and second in eight. Until tomorrow.

The goal, of course, is to get tomorrow because today is so critical.

Things honestly are very close to going off the rails.

As I reported Wednesday night/Thursday morning, things didn't go nearly as well as it did Tuesday when league No. 2 and union 2 Bill Daly and Steve Fehr stood jointly in front of an NHLPA backdrop for the first time in this process and held a brief press scrum. The visual said it all: things were rosy. The words said it all, with Fehr calling it the "best day" in the process.

That's because owners and players talked generally without storming off in a huff.

Then came Wednesday when things were put down on paper and the real heavy lifting of making a deal begun.

There were some tense exchanges, some near blowups, and not just from the Jeremy Jacobs of the world. The Boston owner has become everybody's favorite target for blame, but the moderates got fed up and wanted to end things as well when the players weren't receptive enough to the league throwing more money on "Make Whole."

The owners angrily left the meeting. But the two sides decided to try to patch things up and keep working at it, which created some "positivity" among sources on both sides.

Then, things ended tensely again.

The reality is as close as the sides appear because they did have some agreements yesterday, those bargaining feel everything hangs by a thread.

First of all, the $89 million extra thrown at "Make Whole" is based solely on a 10-year CBA because the league wants to end the cycle of lockouts. The union has always balked at that because Donald Fehr has convinced the players that they don't want to lock themselves into a long-term deal after making so many concessions.

The league also wants to end the long-term, back-diving contracts, so they want five-year max deals (seven to re-sign one's own free agent) and 5% max variance in salaries. This obviously wouldn't affect the vast majority of NHLers, but to the union, this restricts players' rights bigtime.

Now, the PA is insistent that Donald Fehr comes back in the room. That means Gary Bettman comes back in the room. And when that happens, things usually go toxic fast.

So we again are on murky ground, my fellow hockey fans.

My gut: this still gets done eventually. But as has been the trend of this whole process, it won't happen easy.

Both sides need to decide what issues are worth risking a full season for. Anyway, there's got to come a point where the 700 players deserve the right to vote for a proposal, one would think.

As of this moment the PA is talking internally. Then the two should meet again with different sets of rules, of course.

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