The ice that has encased the NHL since mid-September just might be starting to crack.
And if so, the Penguins apparently will have played a leading role in breaking it up.
Co-owner Ron Burkle was one of six owners who met with 18 NHL players -- a group that included Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and player representative Craig Adams -- in New York Tuesday, and seems to have been the driving force in what was widely viewed as a productive, encouraging session.
"I think everyone wants to get a deal done, so that's encouraging," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters after the meeting wrapped up around midnight.
NHL Players' Association special counsel Steve Fehr echoed that upbeat assessment, saying it was, "maybe the best day we've had so far."
Although they did not take questions, it was noteworthy that Daly and Fehr stood side-by-side while addressing the media, something that has not happened in the past.
The sides will meet again early today, before a long-planned meeting of the league's Board of Governors, which is set for 11 a.m.
Burkle's fellow co-owner, Mario Lemieux, was not officially part of the talks, but surfaced at the hotel where the meeting was held. Lemieux was accompanied by longtime friend Pat Brisson, who just happens to be Crosby's agent.
The Penguins' ownership is a moderate in the league's labor dispute, and there were numerous reports of players who were in the meeting praising the perspective Burkle, a multi-billionaire reputed to be an outstanding negotiator, brought to it.
Most early, not-for-attribution, reports from inside the talks suggested that the sides managed to find some common ground, which hadn't happened very often in previous get-togethers.
While there was much talk of "progress," no details emerged immediately on areas of the dispute where traction was generated. Nonetheless, those involved in the negotiations seemed to be infused with a sense of cautious optimism that had been missing in the aftermath of most earlier meetings.
The owners and players gathered at a Manhattan hotel shortly after 2 p.m. and, after about 5 1/2 hours of small- and large-group meetings, broke for dinner, during which time the union also conducted a conference call.
A couple of hours later, the parties reconvened for Round 2.
Tuesday's meeting was rooted in a suggestion by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who proposed holding an exchange of ideas in which he and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr would not be involved.
Initial indications were that there would be six owners and six players involved in Tuesday's session, but the league ultimately decided not to limit the number of NHLPA members participating.
Consequently, Crosby and Adams were joined by Jonathan Toews, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Miller, Brad Richards, David Backes, Mike Cammalleri, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, George Parros and Kevin Westgarth.
The other owners who took part were Jeremy Jacobs (Boston), Murray Edwards (Calgary), Jeffrey Vinik (Tampa Bay), Larry Tannenbaum (Toronto) and Mark Chipman (Winnipeg).
Daly and Steve Fehr also participated.
The league's collective bargaining agreement expired Sept. 15, and Bettman imposed the lockout a day later.
Games have been cancelled through Dec. 14, and the league has called off the Winter Classic, which was planned for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, and the Jan. 27 All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio.
NOTES -- Four locally trained players -- goalie John Gibson and forwards J.T. Miller, Vince Trocheck and Riley Barber -- are among the 27 on Team USA's preliminary roster for the world junior championships. Team USA's 23-man roster for the tournament will be announced Dec. 23. ... Penguins prospect Anton Zlobin is one of 31 candidates to invited to try out for Russia's entry in the tournament, while another 2012 draftee, center Teddy Blueger, will play for Latvia.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.