With the cancellations mounting -- full training camps, exhibition games, all of October's and November's regular-season games and now the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 -- there are a lot of dark clouds keeping the NHL dark.
But there is a new light, however dim.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association are heading back to the bargaining table and they're vowing to meet in private, according to the Canadian Press.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly is scheduled to meet with Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's special counsel, at an undisclosed location today, according to a CP source.
It will be the first time the sides have sat down together since Oct. 18.
The talks are set to restart in a private setting so that "they can focus on bargaining," according to the source. Daly and Fehr have been speaking informally by phone throughout the week.
Any progress is likely to come from the "make-whole provision" in the league's latest offer, which would see players receive deferred payments that will ensure all current contracts are honoured in full. The union has been told the NHL is willing to make changes that will see those payments not counted against the players' share in future revenues, according to a source, but the NHLPA has yet to receive specific details regarding the potential new offer.
Before the renewed bargaining session was confirmed late Friday night, locked-out Winnipeg Jet Andrew Ladd, the team captain, and Jim Slater seemed pleased to hear they could resume, after their regular on-ice workout Friday at the MTS Iceplex.
"I hope so," Ladd said, asked if he thought that sounded like good news. "I hope they're willing to talk about all the issues. They seem to want to set the agenda with all the past meetings. That's not really something we really want to go into, just talking about the one thing.
"There are still a lot of issues ahead that we want to talk about. If they're willing to talk about them, that's a good thing and hopefully that leads to a deal getting done."
Daly and NHLPA counsel Steve Fehr have been communicating by phone this week, not only with a few ideas back and forth according to several sources, but also now trying to set the time and location for the next session.
Though there's no official agreement on it, the sides appear to have come to some understanding based on recent proposals alone that a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenues is going to be the important common ground.
The NHLPA, however, has said it doesn't want to meet only to discuss the owners' last "make-whole" proposal to ensure players receive the full value of contracts already signed, even if that proposal was officially taken off the table by the league.
That issue seems to be the biggest stumbling block in the way of a solution but the players have made it very clear they don't wish to be painted into a corner by accepting the league's needs/wants on all the other issues before they start haggling over "make-whole."
Ladd was asked, in light of all the negativity, if his worry has increased that the entire season may be lost.
"Yes and no," he said. "I guess we're still hopeful here that we can get something done here. I think everyone feels we're close enough where we should be able to find some ground here to get to play hockey again.
"But I guess it's a fear of mine that we would be so close and be dumb enough to not play this year. That being said, I think the players have come a long way and I think the owners have to show a commitment, too, not only to the fans but to us that they're willing to take some load on themselves to ensure that this thing is something that's going to last..."
-- with files from the Canadian Press