NHL lockout: Progress made, but still far from a deal

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Tuesday might have been the sugar high in the NHL labor negotiations.

The day when, after months of frustration, there was a rush of optimism and hope, even giddiness. When it suddenly seemed likely that a season that had looked to be in mortal jeopardy just a day earlier was about to be saved.

That might well prove to be the case, too, because the past couple of days of meetings between players and owners have generated more good feelings than all of their previous sessions, combined.

But it remains that the sides still have much work to do to craft a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expired Sept. 15, and there's still no guarantee it will happen.

That presumably is why Penguins player representative Craig Adams, who sat in on a full day of negotiations Tuesday and some of the talks Wednesday before having to leave because of a personal obligation, was so guarded in his assessment of what went on.

He balked at saying that anything he witnessed made him more optimistic than he had been at the start of the week that a settlement is possible in time to save a portion of the 2012-13 season.

"I don't know," Adams said. "I think we're certainly at the point where we've had enough ups-and-downs that I think I'm kind of done with that.

"I'm done trying to be optimistic or pessimistic or predict where (the talks) are going. I think I'll reserve judgment on that."

The sides were in and out of meetings and caucuses until nearly 1 o'clock this morning. -- "We had a series of very candid discussions," Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey told reporters in New York after the session ended -- and are scheduled to meet again later today.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there had been a "good, candid dialogue" with the NHLPA, but added that there still are "critical open issues" to be resolved.

Adams left the meetings in mid-afternoon, not long after the NHL Players' Association submitted a proposal believed to touch on at least the major issues in the dispute.

The NHL countered that a few hours later, and the sides discussed those issues deep into the night.

Wednesday's meetings featured, for the most part, the same casts that had gotten together the previous day.

Although Adams left early, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and co-owner Ron Burkle continued to be involved -- and to earn praise for the part they played in jump-starting the negotiations Tuesday.

Carolina center Jordan Staal, traded from the Penguins to the Hurricanes in June, told the Raleigh News&Observer that Burkle "really understands the business world and he truly does care about playing and getting back on the ice."

Adams, meanwhile, said that the players involved in the talks have a particular appreciation for what Crosby has contributed to getting the talks moving in a positive direction.

"He's been very involved in the process throughout," Adams said. "Obviously, he continues to stay involved and engaged. The other players are glad to have him in there."

But despite the efforts of Burkle and Crosby -- and all the other owners and players who joined the talks this week -- there was little to suggest that the parties are close to resolving the major issues, such as the division of revenues and the structure and length of contracts.

Indeed, even the length of the next CBA has been a point of contention. The NHL has floated the idea of a 10-year agreement, and apparently would be willing to make some concessions if the players agree to make such a commitment, but the NHLPA prefers something shorter.

There have been reports that the NHL might be be flexible on some issues pertaining to the structure of contracts, such as restrictions on how much a player's salary can vary from year to year.

That's become a major issue because some clubs have front-loaded contracts, putting a lot of money in the early years and relatively little in the later seasons. That reduces the overall salary-cap hit, but assures the player will get the bulk of his money even if he retires before the deal expires.

The 12-year contract Sidney Crosby signed in July, when the now-expired CBA was in effect, illustrates that approach. Crosby will be paid $12 million in each of the first three seasons, but $3 million in each of the final three.

When his dozen seasons of pay are averaged out, Crosby's contract carries a cap hit of $8.7 million.

NOTE -- Evgeni Malkin had one goal and four assists in Metallurg Magnitogorsk's 7-2 victory against Dinamo Riga in a Kontinental Hockey League game Wednesday. Malkin has 41 points in 28 games, including nine in the past two, to rank second to teammate Sergei Mozyakin in the KHL scoring race.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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