Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Delicate, marathon negotiations end just before 1 a.m. ET; Bouchard, Granlund updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: December 6, 2012 - 1:01 AM

It's 1 a.m. in the East, and the NHL and the NHL Players' Association just broke up for the day. They are expected to meet again Thursday afternoon -- a third day in a row between a select group of owners and players.

That's a good thing because about two hours ago, it nearly blew. But the two sides are working through what's been a tense-filled, yet productive day as they work toward trying to reach a collective bargaining agreement and end the now-82-day lockout.

Good morning. I will be in studio on KFAN on Thursday morning from 9-9:35 a.m. CT.

But, ...

After the Board of Governors meeting earlier Wednesday, players and owners gathered in Manhattan at 2 p.m. The players made a proposal. The owners countered an hour later. The players spent time putting together a response, and that was presented after dinner. The owners quickly left the room, came back, and so on and so on.

Basically, the excitement and optimism of yesterday turned into natural difficulty at times today as both sides got down to the nitty-gritty. I am told there were some very tense exchanges, some near blowups, but they patched that together and were still working with smaller groups until 1 a.m.

Ron Hainsey told reporters on the scene they had a series of "candid discussions."

I've talked with both sides of the aisle about an hour ago and there was a lot more positivity than I was hearing earlier in the day. But the way it's being described from people very much involved is "delicate juncture" and at a "serious point."

Said Deputy Commissioner: "There are critical open issues between the two parties."

 

Details of the offers weren’t revealed, but they surrounded the core economic issues separating the two and contracting rights. It’s believed owners gave on some things, although contract lengths (5 years max, 7 to sign own free agents) and variance of salaries (5% max) are critical issues to them. I know they piled more money on "Make Whole."
 
The NHL also proposed a 10-year term to the CBA; the union has balked thus far. The hope is that if a CBA can be reached soon, the NHL could conduct a 50- to 60-game season, but things again are at a delicate juncture.
 
The NHLPA will meet internally in the morning, but the sides are expected to meet again.
 
Dallas Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski, a former Gopher, is on the NHLPA negotiating committee. Goligoski, who was not in New York, cautioned earlier Wednesday that there has been false hope throughout the lockout.
 
“It is positive that some progress was made, but until you’re in the final stages of this thing and things are agreed on by both sides, it’s almost foolish to be too optimistic,” Goligoski said. “As a player, it’s just foolish to do that to yourself. The way things go, there’s good days and bad days. [Tuesday] seemed to be a good day. Hopefully it’s not followed by a bad one.”
 
Last week, when mediation failed between the NHL and NHLPA, Commissioner Gary Bettman made the suggestion that he and Executive Director Don Fehr remove themselves from the room. The roster of players and owners has largely been recast, with superstar Sidney Crosby entering the fray.
 
“It’s been so close all along that we just needed guys to sit down in a room and be real honest about it,” said Wild veteran Matt Cullen. “The guys that care about the game have finally found their way into the room on both sides. We have some guys that are maybe thinking about the game more than the bottom line for just a second here.”
 
Wednesday, a bunch of NHLers skated down at Ridder. It was an up-tempo skate followed by several players putting in extra skating work. It almost looked like they were cramming for an exam. After all, they better be in shape if training camp is on the horizon.
 
“You get the sense there’s a little more urgency from both sides, and it’s good to see,” Kyle Brodziak said. “I mean, finally. Finally there’s a little bit of hope … . It makes these scrimmages a lot easier to get ready for what possibly could be the real thing.
 
“You’re training and you’re training to stay in shape, but you don’t really know what for.”
 
Added Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom: “Every time we hear something good, practice is better. It’s funny how it goes.”
 
Matt Cullen can’t see how at this juncture things can fall apart.
 
“If both sides take a small step toward each other, you’re really close, you’re right there,” Cullen said this morning. “You get to this point, it seems ridiculous that you’d ever walk away from it now.”
 
More Thursday.
 
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Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who sustained a season-ending concussion last December, has been practicing all week with the American Hockey League Houston Aeros.
 
“We’re trying to see if he can take the next step and get used to some contact again,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He’s not where we need him to get, but hopefully he can make progress.”
 
Bouchard hasn’t played a game in nearly a year, so it’s uncertain if he would be ready if training camp begins soon. Bouchard wasn’t cleared to play in October, meaning he is being paid his $4.3 million salary during the lockout.
 
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In other Aeros/Wild news, center Mikael Granlund, a roster candidate in Minnesota if the lockout ends, will return Friday at the Texas Stars. He missed 12 games with an ankle injury.
 
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USA Hockey unveiled a new "Heads Up, Don’t Duck" instructional video featuring Olympians Jenny Potter and Ryan Suter, the new Wild defenseman.

The :Heads Up, Don’t Duck" safety initiative dates back to 1996 and is aimed at reducing spinal cord and other debilitating injuries.

“Dr. Ashare, the current chair of our safety and protective committee, helped launch this important program nearly two decades ago,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer of USA Hockey. “The basic premise of the program has not changed, however, we created this updated video piece to ensure that every player and coach understands the importance of keeping your head up.”

“We’ve been out in front on safety issues over the course of our history,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “Heads Up, Don’t Duck has long been one of our signature safety programs and is part of our broad SafeSport program that addresses both on and off-ice safety of our participants.”

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