NHL talks go deep into the night; players optimistic

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2012 - 12:47 AM

Negotiations to save the NHL season took on urgency as owners and players worked into Thursday morning.

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Wild center Matt Cullen is one of more than two dozen players skating daily at Ridder Arena during the NHL lockout.

Photo: Andy Blenkush, Associated Press file

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With daily skates getting torturous during an excruciating lockout, more than two dozen NHL players skated with renewed purpose Wednesday morning.

It was intense, fast and physical as players ramped it up with the hope that there actually was light at the end of the tunnel and training camps could be around the corner.

"You can see some excitement with the boys out there," Wild center Kyle Brodziak said. "There's definitely a different feeling."

The NHLers tore up the Ridder Arena ice one day after there was traction and "cautious optimism" created by a marathon negotiating session in New York between players and owners. The hope was the traction would filter into Wednesday.

It clearly did. After an update was provided to the Board of Governors by the NHL, the nearly 20 players and six owners spent hours Wednesday exchanging proposals for a collective bargaining agreement. They still were going at 1 a.m. Eastern time Thursday.

It started with a player offer that was countered by the NHL an hour later. The players spent time putting together a response and presented that to the league after dinner. The owners briefly left the room, then returned for a meeting. And, so on.

Tuesday, sides talked generally. Wednesday, things became more difficult as the NHL and NHLPA got down to the nitty-gritty. There were tense moments. But both sides kept at it.

"We had good, candid dialogue, [but] there are critical open issues between the two parties," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

Details of the offers weren't revealed, but they surrounded the core economic issues separating the two sides and contracting rights. It's believed owners gave on some things, although contract lengths and variance of salaries are critical issues to them.

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 still were at a delicate juncture late Wednesday.

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 Donald 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," Wild veteran Matt Cullen said. "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's up-tempo skate was followed by several players putting in extra skating work. It almost looked as if they were cramming for an exam.

"Finally there's a little bit of hope," Brodziak said. "It makes these scrimmages a lot easier to get ready for what possibly could be the real thing.''

Added Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom: "Every time we hear something good, practice is better. It's funny how it goes."

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," he said. "You get to this point, it seems ridiculous that you'd ever walk away from it now."

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