- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) - Hockey fans might have a reason to be a bit optimistic.

The NHL and the players’ association are back on speaking terms, are trading ideas, and already have plans to get back together after the first day of face-to-face meetings in nearly three weeks.

The union responded to the NHL’s most recent contract proposal with one of their own on Monday. And even before the league had a chance to review it with a fine-toothed comb, the sides decided they would meet again Tuesday.

“We spent a good part of the afternoon with the players’ association. They were responding to the proposal we made on Thursday,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on a cold, wind-blown street outside’s the league’s New York headquarters. “Their response was a comprehensive one, dealing with the full slate of issues that we raised and proposals we put forth, and we’re in the process of reviewing their response.

“We will contact them (Tuesday) morning and arrange to get back together, hopefully certainly by midday.”

The sides got together for the first time since Dec. 13, and the union brought along a condensed counterproposal in response to the NHL’s 288-page contract offer. There were some discussions between the negotiators and some time spent apart in internal caucuses.

“The purpose of the discussion was for us to respond and have them ask a couple questions for us to explain a number of the points we had made,” union executive director Donald Fehr said. “We expect to hear from them (Tuesday). We’re all staying around.”

Neither side chose to delve into details of what was offered in either proposal nor characterize any of the discussions that Fehr said “weren’t terribly long.”

“There was an opportunity for the players to highlight the areas they thought we should focus on based on their response, and that’s something we’ve got to look at very closely in addition to the myriad of other issues,” Bettman said. “The process continues and we’re anticipating getting back together.”

The fact that neither offer was quickly dismissed could be taken as a positive sign that perhaps the gap has closed between them.

“I’m out of the prediction business,” Fehr said. “You get up every day and you try to figure out how to make an agreement that day, and if it fails you try and do it the next day. That’s exactly where we are.”

Bettman also reserved judgment when asked if progress was made.

“I think it would be premature for me to characterize it and not particularly helpful to the process,” he said.

A crowd of people heading toward New Year’s celebrations in New York gathered around the large throng of reporters and television cameras focused in on Bettman and Fehr as the two leaders spoke separately on the busy sidewalk. Both men would rather have the attention back on the ice instead of themselves.

This was the first meeting in nearly three weeks since the last round of negotiations with a federal mediator. After presenting their proposal, union representatives stayed in the building in case there were further discussions _ later, with talks done for the day, the union said it expected a response from the NHL on Tuesday morning.

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