NEW YORK (AP) - NHL owners and players got right back to the bargaining table on Wednesday morning just hours after ending a long day of talks that produced the greatest sense for optimism since the lockout began three months ago.
The same group of negotiators returned for more talks before the NHL’s board of governors was scheduled to hold its pre-planned meeting. Talks continued on Tuesday night until about midnight, and it was clear progress was made when deputy commissioner Bill Daly stood side by side with union special counsel Steve Fehr in a rare joint status report from both sides.
Negotiations lasted for nearly eight hours on Tuesday in a pair of sessions that included big and smaller groups. The sides reconvened Wednesday morning, taking advantage of a small window of time before the board of governors meeting that was scheduled for 11 a.m. The possibility existed that bargaining would resume following that get-together.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had planned to hold a news conference after the board meeting, but that might be postponed or even canceled if negotiations are still ongoing.
The sides are trying to avoid another lost season. The NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel a full year because of a labor dispute back in 2005. The deal reached then was in place until this September, and the lockout was put into effect on Sept. 16 after that agreement expired.
The lockout reached its 81st day Wednesday.
While no details of what was discussed Tuesday were released, the addition of new owners to the negotiating process and a group of 18 players _ without Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr in the room _ helped move the process forward and create a sense of hope that there will be a hockey season, and maybe soon.
The respective leaders were again on the same floor where talks were taking place but remained removed from the discussions.
“We had a long day,” Steve Fehr said after Tuesday’s talks. “We thought it was a constructive day. We had a good dialogue. In some ways I’d say it might be the best day we’ve had, which isn’t too overly optimistic of a picture. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done.”
“I appreciate the efforts of the players,” Daly said. “Everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so that’s encouraging. We look forward to hopefully making more progress.”
That was the extent of the details revealed by the two sides, which could be another good sign that neither group wanted to say anything that could throw the discussions off the rails.
The large group of owners and players gathered to try to find some common ground as the search for a deal that would save the hockey season continued. Bettman and Donald Fehr were at the Manhattan hotel but stayed outside the meeting room.
Not much had worked up until Tuesday so the sides agreed to a different format to see if that would shake things up.
“I’m hoping we get to where we need to be,” Bettman said before talks began Tuesday afternoon.