After three torturous months of false alarms and crumbling trust, the NHL lockout may have finally reached the diluted, bittersweet light at the end of the tunnel.
The shift in momentum began as 24 new faces found themselves at the center of Tuesday's meetings.
Six owners—including Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, Pittsburgh's Ron Burkle, Tampa Bay's Jeff Vinik and Winnipeg's Mark Chipman—and 18 actual players—including Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Teows, Ryan Miller and Shane Doan—met for seven hours over two sessions.
Per Kevin Allen of the USA Today:
There was an acknowledgment from both sides that they will have to give up something to reach a deal to end the 81-day old lockout. Although both parties have been careful not to reveal what exactly was said on Tuesday, the word "flexibility" seems to be emerging from both camps.
The NHL and NHLPA were both willing to delay this week's scheduled hearings [at] the Quebec Labour Board. The meetings have been postponed to accommodate more bargaining.
Wednesday morning, reports from insiders indicated a reason for the upturn in progress. Per Doug MacLean, former NHL GM (via David Staples of the Edmonton Journal):
Six weeks ago...the NHL’s position [was] "knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out until December 1st, and then at December 1st we’re getting a deal done...The owners are saying they’re going to be flexible and the players are saying they’re going to be flexible."
Sportsnet reporter Nick Kypreos echoed MacLean, telling Staples:
Gary [Bettman] is ready to get a deal done. He wants this thing done Friday. Friday!
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos says some coaches are calling players to tell them to be ready for imminent return. #CBA
— Iain MacIntyre (@imacVanSun) December 5, 2012
Optimism continued to rise after the NHL's Board of Governors meeting around midday Wednesday. As Blue Jackets' representative John Davidson told the Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliot afterwards:
John Davidson of CBJ: "We feel good about the information we got."— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) December 5, 2012
While Bettman said little to the press, reports materialized regarding a Wednesday afternoon CBA proposal from the NHLPA. Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman tweeted after Bettman's brief press conference:
Short and sweet. Expectation is players will deliver a proposal to league this afternoon— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) December 5, 2012
Meetings between owners and players resumed shortly after 2:00 PM Wednesday. Three hours later, the two sides broke for a recess; TSN's Bruce Arthur tweeted on the general mood during the break:
We were just all watching Ron Burkle talk with Don Fehr in a hallway. Other owners flitted around, too. Everyone seemed cheerful.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) December 5, 2012
If a CBA deal is struck in the next few days, a shortened 2012-13 NHL season could begin before Christmas. Per Yahoo!'s Greg Wyshynski:
Hearing next Fri. for camps. MT @garylawless if deal gets done by weekend, training camps could open next Wed/56-game season on Dec. 20— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) December 5, 2012
Possible formats for the season include 56, 60 or 62 games. The NBA played 66 in their lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign.
This potential conclusion to the work stoppage comes almost three months after the previous CBA officially ended (Sept. 15). The first regular season games were cancelled on Oct. 5. A breakthrough seemed to be offing back in early November, but the general mood soon headed downhill.
Now, conversely, hope for a lockout resolution—one that could potentially come within the next several dozen hours—has reached an all-time high. Not even the most pessimistic Vegas bookkeeper would bet against a season start date sometime before New Year's Day.
Is the final resting place for this autumn's lockout near? Will the two sides present a rather miraculous CBA to the hockey universe in the coming days? The answers may finally be arriving soon.
Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009. He has written more than 435 articles and received more than 760,000 reads.