Even as negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement that would end the NHL lockout seemed to be gaining momentum in recent days, some observers warned the process could bog -- or even break -- down before a deal was finalized.
They were correct.
The talks in New York sputtered somewhat Thursday, when there were no formal bargaining sessions. The parties are scheduled to meet separately with a federal mediator this morning; whether they will get together after that isn't known.
Thursday morning, the NHL Players' Association accused the league of softening the penalties for teams that try to hide hockey-related revenue, and the NHL eventually restored language that had been changed.
Later, the NHLPA launched a 48-hour voting period for its members to determine whether its executives should have authorization to file a disclaimer of interest.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr had allowed a deadline for such a filing, which would remove the NHLPA as the bargaining representative of NHL players, to pass Wednesday.
Penguins player representative Craig Adams, who had been involved the previous two days of talks, did not participate Thursday.
At this point, there appear to be three major hurdles separating the parties from a deal.
There are issues related to pensions -- the subject of a small-group meeting Thursday evening -- a disagreement over the maximum length of player contracts and conflicting views on the salary-cap ceiling for the first full season in which the new CBA would be in effect.
The league wants to have contracts run no more six years -- seven for a team re-signing a player -- but the union prefers seven.
The NHLPA also is holding out for a cap ceiling of $65 million in 2013-14, while the league wants to go no higher than $60 million.
More challenging matters than those -- how hockey-related revenue should be shared, for example -- have been resolved over the course of these negotiations, but the time left to work out the remaining issues is dwindling.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that a deal must be in place no later than Jan. 11 if a 48-game regular season, the shortest the league is willing to accept, is to be played.
The recent hiccups aside, both parties have made meaningful concessions of late.
The NHL has agreed to allow to contract buyouts before the 2013-14 season -- that's part of the reason the league is unwilling to raise the cap ceiling -- while the NHLPA has decided that it could live with a 10-year CBA. (It would, however, prefer an opt-out provision after seven years, while the league wants it at eight.)
Whether the talks can surge forward again on Day 111 of the lockout is hard to predict, but Penguins center Sidney Crosby feels the ongoing communication between the players and union is a major plus.
"Even when things haven't gone perfect, I always feel like when there's been talk, there's progress," he said.
"Even when it didn't show right away."
A little charity work
A group of Penguins are scheduled to participate in a charity game Wednesday in Johnstown.
The Johnstown Tomahawks announced that Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Joe Vitale, Derek Engelland, Ben Lovejoy and Brooks Orpik, along with former Penguins center Jordan Staal, will take part in the game at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena at 7 p.m.
The event will benefit the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation-Haiti and the Johnstown Tomahawks Foundation. Tickets are $25 and go on sale at 10 a.m. today at the War Memorial and through Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000.
Prohibitive insurance costs will prevent Crosby from playing.
Letang to KHL?
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is expected to sign with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League for the balance of the lockout.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Bobrovsky and Maxim Afinogenov are among the familiar names who play for that club.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.