Frosty relationship starting to thaw?

The NHL's Bill Daly (left) and Gary Bettman (right) walk away from the NHLPA's office in Toronto...

The NHL's Bill Daly (left) and Gary Bettman (right) walk away from the NHLPA's office in Toronto after rejecting their three counter offers on Oct. 18. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

Bruce Garrioch, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:24 PM ET

The icy relationship between the NHL and NHLPA may finally be showing signs of a thaw.

As Day 50 of the lockout closed Sunday night, there was hope the two sides could be on the road to making progress in talks for a collective bargaining agreement.

Private all-day discussions between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr went until 1 a.m. Sunday and the two sides have agreed to return to the table this week to see if they're able to get traction so the season can finally get underway.

There are indications progress was actually made.

"We had a series of meetings over the course of the day (Saturday) and had a good, frank discussion on the most important issues separating us. We plan to meet again early in the week," said Daly in a statement released by the league.

Daly said in an email to QMI Agency the league and the union haven't decided if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr will be included in the discussions when talks resume.

Steve Fehr said in a statement he was pleased with the session and even hinted the two sides had actually made progress. It's the first time they've sat in the same room since talks completely broke down Oct. 18 in Toronto, when the league turned down a union proposal in 15 minutes.

"I agree with what Bill said. Hopefully we can continue the dialogue, expand the group and make steady progress," said Fehr.

That is pretty much the first time the league and the union have agreed on anything since the lockout started on Sept. 16. The union called a meeting of its executive bargaining committee Sunday at 3:30 p.m. to discuss where the talks stand heading into this week.

Daly and Fehr met in an undisclosed "neutral" location away from their head offices in New York and Toronto. If bargaining does resume full-throttle this week, it would be hard hard to believe they'd be in New York, which is still trying to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

The NHL and NHLPA are trying to figure out how to split the pot of $3.3 billion in revenues. Reports this week indicated the league had come up with a plan to try to alleviate the union's concerns about the "make whole" portion of the proposal Bettman presented last month.

The players felt that part of the deal meant "players were paying players" and the union wants to make sure all contracts are honoured. The NHLPA wants to see the league's offer in writing before deciding if the two sides are able to have meaningful negotiations.

Under the last agreement, the players received 57% of the revenues. Both sides agree a 50-50 split is fair, but they haven't been able to figure out a way to divvy up the cash to get there and that's been a stumbling point in negotiations.

Sources have insisted to QMI Agency since the first day of the lockout neither the league or the players want to lose the season. But this work stoppage hit home Friday when the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 was cancelled.

If the league's offer on the "make whole" portion of the CBA is genuine, then they can move on to other issues, like the five-year limit on contracts the NHL is trying to impose along with changes to free agency.

While all games up until Dec. 1 have already been chopped, the league could still have a meaningful 60-game season that wouldn't require the playoffs to start late and the Stanley Cup final to be played after mid-June.

"They can worry about that stuff after they get an agreement," said a league insider Sunday. "They've got a lot of work to do before they can even think about trying to have a season."

The hope is these talks will lead to action on the ice.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sungarrioch

 


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