SAN JOSE The NHL lockout reached a new low point on Friday with the cancellation of the Winter Classic, which would have brought more than 100,000 fans to Michigan Stadium to witness the Maple Leafs and Red Wings in the annual outdoor spectacle.
Less than 24 hours later, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr engaged in a lengthy bargaining session in an undisclosed location, and issued brief statements afterwards that were absent of the petty public sniping weve seen throughout the labor impasse.
There is optimism, albeit cautious, that the corner has finally been turned in terms of getting a new collective bargaining agreement in place and beginning a shortened season in early December or even late November.
I think it made, I guess, the possibility of missing a whole season kind of hit home for everybody, said Brad Stuart of losing the Classic. Obviously, nobody wants that to happen. Maybe that was something that made everybody kind of wake up and say, lets try to do something before we cancel more than just the Winter Classic.
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Stuart was one of just four current Sharks skating at Sharks Ice on Monday, joining Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Thomas Greiss for an hour-long session. Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov has also been a regular participant, as the former Shark maintains a residence in the Bay Area. Ryane Clowe also is still local, but has decided to practice with the ECHLs San Francisco Bulls for the time being. Eight players are overseas in various leagues across Europe.
Stuart and Marleau are hopeful that the band will be back together soon.
I guess theyre talking, and thats a good thing, Stuart said. There hasnt been too many details as to what exactly has been discussed, but the fact that theyre talking and it seems like theyre going to continue to talk, is a good thing. I guess if theres any hope or a reason to be optimistic, thats it.
Marleau said: Any time you talk, hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the owners will scrap whatever script they are going by and realize that theyre hurting the game. Theyre only hurting themselves in the end of things.
Marleau was especially critical of the hard-line owners in comments 11 days ago, when he suggested the league planned all along to cancel games through November. On Monday, he doubled down on that criticism, although he believes that the Sharks ownership is not among those taking a hard-line stance.
Its tough when someone on the other side doesnt want to talk for so long. Its a good sign that theyre talking, he said.
We wanted to talk the whole time, and they just said no. Theyre going off of their agenda, and doing whatever they want. Theyre written this script already, so its no big surprise.
Should commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr rejoin the bargaining sessions (something thats unclear at the moment), it would be the first time the two leaders were in the same room together since Oct. 18. That was when Bettman and the NHL representation look just minutes to reject the unions counter-proposals to the leagues previous offer on Oct. 16.
An agreement is still far from a certainty at this point, of course, as there are a number of contentious issues to solve. The single biggest roadblock seems to be current contracts, as the players association wants NHL ownership to be fully responsible to the deals that are currently signed. The league would like an immediate 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, as well as new restrictions on future contracts.
Boyle mum on latest news
Dan Boyle has been among the more outspoken NHL players when it comes to the current lockout.
On Oct. 4, he made headlines when he suggested that the owners wanted the players to miss some paychecks before truly negotiating, and that Bettman only requiring eight votes to deny a CBA proposal didnt make sense.
On Oct. 25, he suggested that both the NHL and NHLPA had yet to really begin bargaining. Its supposed to be a negotiation, and I think right now both sides feel like its their way or the highway. I think youve got to give to get, and I dont know that were at that point yet, he told CSNCalifornia.com.
On Monday, Boyle declined to answer anything lockout-related, save for one brief statement.
Until this thing gets done, we just have to wait and hope. Thats it, he said.