NHL lockout: Restart of talks generates little optimism

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There's no question James Neal of the Penguins wishes the NHL lockout was over.

And maybe, just maybe, he suspects there's a decent chance that it will end soon.

But, even if all that is true, Neal insists it had nothing to do with his decision to return to this area and resume working out with some of his teammates at Southpointe Tuesday.

"It doesn't indicate anything," said Neal, who had been training near Toronto. "I just came back to check up on things and skate with the guys. It means nothing."

Neal, who had practiced at Southpointe earlier in the lockout, showed up one day after defenseman Brooks Orpik said he had come back because he wanted to get out of Boston, where he lives during the offseason, to avoid having winter weather complicate travel plans.

Orpik, like Neal, was adamant that optimism about any potential settlement in the NHL's labor dispute was not a factor in his decision.

Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, which broke off rather abruptly and harshly Thursday, will start again today at an undisclosed location -- NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly would say only that it won't happen in New York -- and with federal mediators rejoining the talks.

Although a previous attempt at mediation produced no meaningful progress, the NHL Players' Association asked to try it again and the league, which had balked at the idea last week, agreed.

The NHL, players and mediators will have no shortage of topics to discuss.

In addition to high-profile matters such as rules governing contract length and structure and guidelines covering the transition to a new CBA, there are numerous other issues that have yet to be talked about, let alone resolved.

"The fact we haven't really even covered everything is kind of the scary part," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "There are some main issues that everyone knows, obvious issues.

"That being said, there are a lot of details, a lot of things that go into a CBA, and those haven't even really been started to be talked about, so they definitely have some work to do there."

Crosby was heavily involved in the talks last week, but said he does not plan to be today.

Nonetheless, he seemed pleased to learn that negotiations are resuming.

"The fact they're talking is good," he said. "We've all said that throughout this process. It's better than sitting around and not knowing what everyone is thinking. It's better to talk."

Craig Adams, the Penguins' player representative, said Tuesday he had not decided whether to attend the session today and echoed Crosby's point about how much remains to be done before a CBA can come together.

"There are lots of important things still to be agreed upon," Adams said.

He declined to specify one or two that could be particularly difficult to work out, but noted that the transition to the next CBA is multi-faceted and "very, very important to us."

Elements of that range from whether teams should be allowed to buy out contracts without having that money count against their salary-cap ceiling to the best way to deal with the inevitable drop in the ceiling if the players' share of hockey-related revenues goes from 57 percent to 50, as seems certain.

"From our point of view, if the [ceiling] decreases too quickly, by too much, there's going to be no room in the system for players to sign new contracts," Adams said. "You're going to end up with the free agents next summer, nearly every team will be right up against [the ceiling] and how are you going to get 23 or 24 guys [signed] under that? That's big for us."

Perhaps because they are genuinely concerned about the number and magnitude of issues still to be worked out -- or perhaps because NHLPA officials have urged them to be as noncommittal as possible when speaking publicly -- Penguins players have been decidedly reserved while talking about when they think the league will be back in business.

Or even whether they are confident that it will happen in time to save part of the 2012-13 season.

"We'll see," Crosby said. "I'm not making any predictions. I've always heard [NHLPA executive director Don Fehr] say he's done making predictions. I never could understand why. I figured a guy with this much experience would be able to make some type of prediction, but I can see why now."



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