Time is running short to save a full NHL season.
But with just days remaining to strike a new collective bargaining agreement and preserve an 82-game schedule, deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated that he felt there was a deal to be made.
Asked on Sunday whether there was a chance for the sides to get something in place by Thursday's deadline, Daly responded by saying "that's more of a question for the union than it is for me."
"We think there's a framework of a deal on the table," he added.
It's the same conclusion a number of observers reached after watching the league and NHL Players' Association move closer together in proposals delivered over the last week.
At worst, the sides remain about US$550 million apart in the division of revenue over a five-year deal -- depending on which of the union's three proposals is used and at what rate the business ends up growing. They could be separated by as little as $320 million.
The talks broke off after the union presented three offers to the NHL, all of which were dismissed.
"There are multiple frameworks for a deal on the table," said Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's special counsel. "We gave them three good ones on Thursday. Each moves toward a 50-50 split of (hockey-related revenue) that the league wants. Each allows the contracts in place to be honoured.
"Unfortunately, after considering these proposals for about 10 minutes the league rejected them and essentially said that they are not moving off their last proposal."
The biggest concern for the union is ensuring all current contracts are honoured in full. The NHL attempted to address that in its surprise offer on Tuesday, but the NHLPA didn't like that the proposed "make whole" provision would see deferred payments count against the earning potential of players in the future.
However, commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr that further concessions could be made in that area.
"At the end of yesterday's meeting, Gary did say that (if) the players were prepared to agree to all of the other parts of their offer (subject, perhaps, to "tweaks") then I could call him about this issue," Fehr wrote in a letter to his membership and player agents on Friday.
No official bargaining sessions have been scheduled for the coming week. However, the sides are expected to resume talks in New York at some point.
There is incentive for both to try and wrap up a deal sooner than later, with the league saying a full season could be played starting Nov. 2 if an agreement is reached by Thursday.
"That's as far as we can go and still play 82 games and be done with the playoffs by the end of June," Bettman said this week. "Obviously, nobody would think it was appropriate for us to be playing in July."
If the NHL were able to save a full season that included the Jan. 1 Winter Classic outdoor game at Michigan Stadium, it could likely count on raking in revenues similar to the record $3.3 billion it pulled in last year.
Fehr seemed wary of Bettman's claim the NHL had tabled its best offer -- a similar claim was made prior to the lockout being enacted on Sept. 15 -- but acknowledged that his membership believes it's important to play a full season.
-- The Canadian Press