IT may not be "the" deal but settlement of one issue in particular -- the so-called make-whole provision of last Tuesday's NHL proposal -- could knock down a big part of the wall between the league and the NHLPA.
That was the message from locked-out players skating locally at the MTS Iceplex, a group that was keeping busy again Monday.
The make-whole idea is simple, to ensure that players realize the full value of contracts they signed before the lockout went into effect on Sept. 15.
Last week's NHL proposal put it on the table, but the funding for such an idea was to come from the players' future share of revenues.
The NHLPA put it in play differently with its trio of proposals on Thursday, which were not to the NHL's liking.
It's obvious that this is a central issue, if not the central issue, now that both sides have signalled that a 50-50 split of revenue is a goal.
If there's a more acceptable way to fund the make-whole proposal, a road to an agreement would be more likely. But negotiations are again stalled, as there is no session scheduled yet this week between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr.
"Owners signed all these big contracts last year," St. Louis Blues forward Ryan Reaves said Monday at the Iceplex. "You almost start thinking that they signed them strictly because they knew what was coming, that they knew of the lockout and what they'd be asking for. So you sign it thinking you'll get 20 per cent of that back? That's not how the world works.
"If you sign a contract, you're expected to honour that contract. I think anybody in the world, no matter what you're job, they would say the same. So I don't think it's wrong of us to be asking for contracts to be honoured that you signed last year."
Jets captain Andrew Ladd said it isn't the only disagreement that exists, but it's an important one.
"I feel if they're talking about making our contracts whole, that's definitely helping," Ladd said. "But I think there are some other issues in terms of some of the contractual stuff... stuff like that, those are things that are important to us, too, and we're not going to just give those up."
After all of last week's tough talk and posturing between the sides, including duelling proposals and rejections that led to some level of frustration, players here Monday were not giving up on a sense that a deal might be within reach.
"Do I see (a possible deal)? I do," Ladd said. "I think there's something there. I think it's going to take a little bit of give on their side as well. I don't really see why they're so hesitant to find some middle ground there. So yeah, I think we as a group think there is something there and hopefully they come back to the table."
"I think any time anybody's talking, that's progress in negotiations," Reaves added.
Nashville Predators centre Colin Wilson, who joined the local crew working out for the first time on Monday, used the word "optimistic."
"I'm fairly optimistic," said Wilson, who decided to spend a couple of weeks with his family in Winnipeg. "In the media, people are saying we're pretty far apart but I think there's a little bit of wiggle room there and I think our union's doing a great job. Fehr, he's very impressive. I'm optimistic at this point."
What about the Thursday deadline for a deal so there could be a full, 82-game season, Wilson was asked?
"We'll see about that one but I'm optimistic that we're close enough right now, but I don't know about that Thursday deadline," he said. "I've been in on a lot of the conference calls, have talked to Fehr, so optimism is the main word for me."
NOTES: Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom has opted to play during the lockout, not in his native Sweden but with EC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.