Signs of progress are finally starting to emerge from the NHL lockout talks, months after the season was scheduled to begin. While fans have every right to feel frustrated with how the situation has been handled, things are finally trending in the right direction.
Kevin Allen of USA Today reports the NHL Players' Association presented a new counteroffer to the owners on Monday. The owners had originally made a fresh offer late last week to end an extended stalemate between the sides.
Hurdles remain and further compromises probably need to get made before a shortened season can occur. The two sides have less than two weeks to reach an agreement, with Jan. 11 serving as the latest date to complete a deal.
Yet, the best part of the most recent exchange of offers was the courteous nature from both sides. Unlike previous offers, there were no public statements about how far apart they were or quick denials of progress being made.
Instead, things remained relatively quiet as the NHL began to look over the latest offer. It's a sign that the gap might finally be closing after months of both sides standing their ground on key issues, leading to a bunch of lost games.
How close they are to an agreement should become clear within the next couple days, but it's actually a situation where leaks will probably be a bad sign. They will mean one side doesn't believe certain elements of the offer are fair.
In other words, fans who remain loyal to the league after the second extended stoppage in nine years will be forced to exercise a little bit more patience. But if they have stuck around this long, another weeks or so isn't much.
The remaining fans deserve a season. Wiping out the entire schedule for the second time in less than a decade would be a terrible message to send to the people who have continued to support the NHL through thick and thin.
Plenty of casual viewers have already jumped ship during this debacle, but the league has always hung its hat on the fact the diehards will always come back. If another season is canceled, that becomes far less of a certainty.
That's probably why talks have begun to heat up with the deadline looming. The sides understand what's at stake if the games aren't played again until next fall (at the earliest), and they want to avoid that fate.
NHL fans have been through enough setbacks to limit their expectations. But there's suddenly reason for optimism. Hopefully it leads to an agreement to give hockey fans a new year's present.