NEW YORK _ The momentum from Tuesday's productive meetings between NHL owners and players stalled a bit on Wednesday as both sides got into a sometimes-heated, grind-it-out bargaining session that totaled almost nine hours.

Give the sides credit for their persistance and sense of urgency. Finally. They worked until 1 a.m., trying to hammer out a settlement.

Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, said there was "good, candid dialogue" and that the union would get back to the NHL on some "open issues" that were discussed.

He apparently was referring to the NHLPA having a night's sleep to think about a proposal made by the NHL. It will make its response Thursday.

According to Sportsnet of Canada, the league has improved its offer _ from $211 million to $300 million _ in the "make whole" provision, which goes toward guaranteeing contracts. The union had requested $393 million, so the sides are close.

There are many other issues, including how to divide hockey-related revenue, free agency, length of player contracts and length of the CBA. The owners now want a 10-year CBA (with an "escape" clause after eight years), while the union seeks a five-year pact.

The owners agreed to keep free agency at seven years of service or at age 27; the league had proposed terms of eight years and 28 years of age.

Arbitration rights, which go into effect after entry-levels deals are completed, would also remain the same.

The players are unhappy with the five-year limits owners want to put on contracts, though the NHL tweaked its proposal, saying teams can re-sign their own players and give them seven-year deals.

Wednesday's meeting had almost the same contingent as Tuesday's: Six owners, 19 players (one more than Tuesday), Daly, and Steve Fehr, special counsel for the players' union.

Oh, and no NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, or union boss Donald Fehr. Again.

Without those two leaders, there was much more progress made Tuesday, perhaps more than at any time in this 82-day lockout

Throughout Wednesday's sessions, the parties would meet for a while and then break into a caucus in another room, discussing the proposals among themselves.

At one point, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller reportedly had some heated words for the owners, but regained his composure.

Much earlier Wednesday, owners and team executives were updated at a Board of Governors meeting. When the meeting ended, there were positive vibes.

Asked if he thought a settlement was near, Columbus president John Davidson said, "We feel good about the information we got."

"I'm encouraged," said Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils' president and general manager.

One league source told me the owners will stay in New York as long as it takes to get a deal done.

Sportsnet said some coaches called players, asking them to be ready for an imminent return.

If there is a new collective bargaining agreement in place in the next week _ and that's a big IF _ and the season starts on, say, Dec. 22, it would give the NHL a 16-week schedule. Playing four games a week, which would create a 64-game schedule, would be too exhausting for the players. It's likely the NHL would have teams play three games in one week and four in the next, which would create a 56-game schedule.

One unconfirmed report said the league would like to open the season on Christmas Day. (What a dumb idea.)

But that's jumping too far ahead. For now, there is a lot more negotiating that has to be done.

That said, there at least is a sense of optimism being generated around the NHL.

Bettman said he was "pleased with the process that is ongoing, and out of respect for that process, I don't have anything else to say."

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, a hard-liner and a staunch Bettman supporter, declined comment before heading into the meeting between players and owners.

Giroux returns. Flyers center Claude Giroux, who injured his neck while playing in Germany on Nov. 17, returned to the ice Wednesday and skated with some NHL players in Ottawa.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.