There was a time -- like, say, a couple of days ago -- when the NHL and its players association couldn't agree on major issues such as how to define "hockey-related revenues" and how long the next collective bargaining agreement should be.
None of that has changed, but it turns out their differences run even deeper than anyone imagined.
Consider this: Negotiations between the sides went on hold after an unproductive 90-minute session Friday in New York, but neither party is taking responsibility for suspending them.
NHLPA head Donald Fehr told reporters it was the league's idea to stop talking; a short time later, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said it was "inaccurate and unfair" to pin that on his side.
There are a few things, however, on which the owners and players agree: Both say they are willing to return to the bargaining table when the other side expresses a desire to do so, and both understand that there could be major repercussions if there isn't a new CBA in place by the time the current one expires Sept. 15.
Bettman has made it clear he intends to lock out the players if there isn't a deal by then and suggested Friday that the league's bargaining position will harden if the labor deal lapses.
Making concessions at that point, he said, "gets more difficult."
Under the league's most recent offer, the players share of what's known as "hockey-related revenue" would shrink from 57 percent to about 46 percent, based on how that total is calculated under the existing CBA.
The session Friday was supposed to allow the union to present a counterproposal to the one that included that stipulation. Fehr said it was built around a change to the fourth year of the NHLPA's initial plan, but Bettman contended there were no meaningful revisions.
"Basically, they stood by their proposal, with some refinements," he said.
Fehr countered that the owners remain set on shrinking the pool of revenue available to the players because they "want a reduction, an absolute reduction, in what they pay out."
The parties also continue to have seriously divergent views on just about everything pertaining to revenue-sharing.
Bettman described revenue-sharing discussions as "a distraction," and Fehr volunteered that there's no indication wealthier franchises are prepared to kick in additional funds to assist those in smallish markets.
Because both sides have expressed a willingness to resume negotiations, it's conceivable that a session could be held on relatively short notice.
"Hopefully, Gary and I have done this enough times [that] no one will stand on ceremony [when scheduling a session]," Fehr said.
Although Bettman said the league is "not in a position to bid against ourselves," he was adamant that it hopes to avoid the NHL's fourth major labor dispute in the past 20 years.
The NHLPA undoubtedly feels the same. The hard part will be figuring out how to make that happen.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.