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Top Shelf: At long last, a glimmer of optimism

4:14 PM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As the election results in the United States rolled in on Tuesday evening, the leaders of the hockey world were engaged in what could be the first real negotiations of the ongoing labor dispute.

For around seven hours, representative for the owners and players hunkered down behind closed doors in New York. The meeting lasted until 10:15 p.m. ET and shortly after that it was announced that more negotiations were on tap for Wednesday.

But, that's pretty much all we know because both sides didn't let slip a single detail about what ground was covered. In fact, Donald Fehr and his constituents in the NHLPA didn't even release a statement following Tuesday's meetings.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly did, but his statement offered precious little in the way of details: "With meetings scheduled to resume Wednesday, the League will not characterize the substance or detail of the discussions until their conclusion."

Veterans of previous labor negotiations are telling us that the silence from both sides on the nature of these meetings is a good sign. That's because usually when the sides are feeling talkative after a meeting, it's usually to badmouth the opposition.

For the first time in this labor battle, there seems to be a sense that reps for the owners and players are treading lightly so as to not upset the early makings of real compromise on the issues that divide them.

Compared to the animosity that has colored this debate for months, it's hard not to look at the absence of name-calling at the moment as a positive. But does that necessarily mean that a new CBA is imminent? Of course not.

Let us not forget that both the league and union took a public relations' hit when the Winter Classic was canceled last week and perhaps that negativity has forced the sides to get more serious about negotiating a new CBA. Or maybe the Classic, which has become the crown jewel of the NHL regular season, always needed to be sacrificed in order to get these guys to work. Either way, it's possible that losing that event may be what gets a new CBA finished.

Could it be a coincidence that one day after the Winter Classic was officially scrapped on Friday, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr met for hours and hours? After weeks of basically zero face-to-face contact between the sides, my guess is the fact that these sudden burst of meetings came directly on the heels of the Classic cancellation has to be connected.

Although the signs look good presently, of course, we should still temper our expectations. After all, whether the meeting are secretive or not, this is still a contentious battle and these current talks could easily fall through.

Yet, for the moment the optimism is palpable and that's good enough for now. With so little positivity to be found during this drawn-out labor war, it doesn't make sense to be cynical about these recent meetings.

It's just that with little known about whether any progress is actually being made, it doesn't seem wise to feast on optimism, either.

The Sports Network

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