The NHL and its players’ association have gone weeks without talking for much of the lockout. They’ve suddenly become chatterboxes. They are set for their fourth straight day of meetings today in New York.
Whether all that talk will lead to a season is still to be determined.
“The fact is we have a lot of work to do, and we’re working hard,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Thursday night in Manhattan. “My hope is that we can achieve the goal of getting a long-term, fair agreement in place as quickly as possible so we can play hockey.”
Neither Bettman nor Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, would assess whether the sides are any closer to a collective bargaining agreement.
“We’re working and in a process now of a series of meetings,” Bettman said. “Hopefully, it leads us to the right place.”
The union made two offers to the league Wednesday night, according to the Canadian Press, and the NHL responded Thursday. It’s expected the players will answer back today.
“You hear things, and you need to think about it, you need to work on it,” Fehr told reporters. “You need to formulate an appropriate response. Sometimes that becomes more difficult if you talk publicly about it before you’ve gone through the work.
“I’m not going to characterize it except to say, as I have before, that it’s always better when you’re meeting than when you’re not.”
The sides met for five hours Thursday, bringing their three-day total to about 18 hours. Prior to Tuesday, their last formal negotiation was Oct. 18.
Both parties were full of bluster following that ill-fated meeting, but they’ve been almost silent as to whether this round of talks has been productive or not.
If today’s negotiations fail to lead toward a compromise, though, it’s possible the meetings could stop again.
“It’s very tough to handicap,” Bettman said. “Every day that passes I think is critical for the game and for our fans.”
The sides had been meeting in an “undisclosed location” all week, but reporters discovered the hideout Thursday. It was a Midtown law office that represents the league and once employed Bettman.
“How did you find us?” Bettman asked with a grin. “You followed the players? Oooh, who did you follow?”
After not receiving an answer, the commissioner chuckled and said, “You don’t give up your sources?”
In Buffalo, meanwhile, the Sabres are using the 55th day of the lockout to help the hungry.
The team’s foundation and alumni association are teaming with Lutheran Charities of Western New York to help provide 40,000 meals for local children and families, plus people in New York and New Jersey who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.
More than 150 volunteers will pack meals this morning in First Niagara Center, and the food will be loaded on trucks and delivered immediately. Food pantries and homes in Western New York will receive 35,000 of the meals, while 5,000 will be driven east to stock food pantries and mobile soup kitchens.
“We have 38,000 kids in Western New York who aren’t sure where their next nutritious meal is coming from,” Steve Biegner, executive director of Lutheran Charities, said in a statement. “And now, due to Hurricane Sandy, our brothers and sisters on the New York and New Jersey shorelines face that same problem.
“We’re so thankful that the Sabres’ organizations have stepped into this gap with Lutheran Charities to fill the need.”