A group of 18 NHL players and six NHL owners continued their meetings Wednesday, wrapping up day 81 of the lockout.
It is widely believed that progress, while arduous, is being made, and with more meetings scheduled on Thursday there is a measure of hope that there will be an NHL season, albeit a shortened one.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took to the podium on Wednesday, but outside of stating that he was “pleased with the process that is ongoing”, said very little to tip his hat as to whether or not the two sides were making significant progress or still had lots of work to do.
With NHL games cancelled through December 14th, there is little hope of the NHL season beginning before Christmas, but an early January start could happen, if the two sides can get a deal done in the next week to ten days.
If and when a deal is struck one of the stumbling blocks will be getting the players that are playing in Europe back to North America so they can participate in what will likely be a two-week training camp to get ready for the season.
Those that have been playing in Europe should have a huge advantage in the early going, but it remains to be seen if their bodies wear down in the long term with all the extra travel and games they will have endured compared to those that chose not to join another club.
On the flip-side, it will be interesting to watch how the European teams adjust once the NHL stars are gone. Many teams may see a significant drop in the standings without their NHL stars in the lineup, while those that chose to avoid signing NHL players and/or chose to sign very few may gain.
At best it appears as if the NHL will consider a 50-60 game season. While a 50-60 game schedule is not ideal, hockey starved fans will take it.
The good news is, after months of stagnant bargaining it appears as if the owners and players are on the right track. Cautious optimism seems to be the phrase of the day, as both sides and the fans have been burned in the past with positive news.
Without question, both sides want to get a deal done, and with the 2012-13 NHL season in jeopardy, this is no longer about winning or losing, rather softening the blow that the NHL will surely endure due to the lockout.
Clearly, the NHL cannot afford another lost season— hopefully everybody in the room on Thursday knows this and continues to do whatever they can to finally get a new CBA signed, sealed and delivered.