Call me crazy, but I predict that more progress will be made when players and owners meet without Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman on Tuesday than we've seen since the NHL Lockout started.
ESPN's Katie Strang gave us the heads up on the six owners who will be in attendance (via Twitter):
#CBA Can confirm: players/owners-only meeting will take place. Six owners are Jacobs, Edwards, Chipman, Burkle, Tannenbaum and Vinik— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) December 2, 2012
For those unfamiliar with NHL owners, that's Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), N. Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Larry Tannenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning).
As her ESPN college Pierre LeBrun notes, the inclusion of Burkle could be a key to progress being made when this shindig gets underway (via Twitter):
To me key in Tuesday's meeting is inclusion of Pens owner Ron Burkle. He's a big time dealmaker. Brings a lot of credibility to the table.— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) December 3, 2012
Not to be outdone, Bruce Garrioch of the Toronto Sun chimes in with who he's hearing will be attending for the players (via Twitter):
There is talk Shane Doan, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and George Parros will be part of meeting tomorrow for #NHLPA. Not confirmed.
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) December 3, 2012
The importance of Crosby being included cannot be overstated.
The Penguins captain, one of the biggest stars in the sport, has been one of the faces of the NHLPA during the lockout, and the relationship that he has with Burkle could go a long way towards opening a dialogue between the two sides.
John Vogl of the Buffalo News chimes in with another player who will be attending (via Twitter):
Sabres' Ryan Miller says via text he will be in NYC during meetings but no final decision has been made as to which players will negotiate.— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) December 3, 2012
Miller, who has been a vocal critic of ownership during the lockout, is looking for an answer to a rather simple question, according to Vogl (via Twitter):
Sabres' Miller: 'I can't make sense of what the owners truly need because they want everything' bit.ly/UCc3l8— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) December 3, 2012
So what does this all mean for NHL fans whose tolerance level for the lockout expired more than a month ago?
It means that without the bumbling duo of Gary Bettman and Bob Daly in attendance, there's a chance for progress.
If Burkle and company can get Jacobs, easily the most reviled owner in the league, to take a back seat while Burkle leads the way, there's a chance for progress.
No matter what either side says publicly, not playing hockey is costing everyone involved a ton of money.
Failing to make any progress on Tuesday not only dooms the 2012-13 NHL season, but it dooms the NHL as well.
Those in attendance know that—and a healthy dialogue won't end the work stoppage, but it will put the league back on a path that results in everyone getting back onto the ice sooner, rather than later.
It simply has to.