TORONTO -- There was excitement in the Binghamton Senators dressing room yesterday. The players on the Ottawa Senators' AHL affiliate were pleased to hear that an olive branch has been extended in the NHL lockout.
Whether the decision by NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow to invite commissioner Gary Bettman to the bargaining table accomplishes anything is the big question, but at least they're ready to talk.
"It's good news," said Senators centre Jason Spezza, who would love to get a ticket back to Ottawa this season. "This is the first I've heard of it, but I think it's a promising sign that somebody is trying to get something done.
"We're hoping that they're able to find a way to get this settled. We have shown through the offers we've made that we're willing to talk to try to get something done. I believe that everybody would like to see this situation settled."
Spezza has been joined by NHL teammates Antoine Vermette, Anton Volchenkov and Brian Pothier in Binghamton this season.
The lockout has been tough on minor league players, even though they're continuing to ply their trade. Players down on the farm work to hone their skills with the hope of eventually making the big club.
NO PLACE TO GO
There's just been one problem this season -- there's no big club to go to, so the efforts of minor-league players are not being rewarded.
"I know what you're saying, but there's a responsibility to your (minor league) teammates that you have to uphold," said Pothier, who was signed to a one-way contract by the Senators for the first time in his career last summer.
"We are all professionals and every time we step on the ice, we have to go out there and get the job done. We can't be thinking about what's happening in the NHL. We have to focus on playing well for this team."
The decision by the NHLPA to invite Bettman and NHL vice-president Bill Daly to the bargaining table next Thursday and Friday in Toronto caught people by surprise.
Since making an offer on Sept 9, the union has insisted it would not return to negotiations until Bettman made the next move.
But if the NHLPA hoped to solidify its membership by making the effort, then the decision has helped.
Like Spezza, other players contacted across the hockey world were happy to hear discussions are starting again.
"The biggest question I get asked going around Ottawa is: 'When are you guys going to talk again? Now, I have an answer for people and I'm glad to hear that they're at least going to talk," said Ottawa centre Todd White.
"I'm happy they're just going back to the table. I'm not sure what's going to happen, but you hope they'll be able to get something worked out. Let's see what happens."
A lot of people have already written off this NHL season, but if there's any headway made in the upcoming discussions, then a deal could be hammered out in a matter of weeks and the season could be saved -- good news for everyone.
"We want to play hockey,'' said Daly, ''but I'm going to qualify that by saying that we're going to have the right deal in place before we play hockey.
''We want to come back with the right system in place."