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'Cautious optimism' describes meetings

NEW YORK - Since Sidney Crosby joined the NHL, Flyers fans have loved to hate him. Now Flyers fans may have reason to cheer him - if only momentarily, should his recent efforts actually help bring hockey back to the ice this season.

(Gene J. Puskar/AP)
(Gene J. Puskar/AP)Read more

NEW YORK - Since Sidney Crosby joined the NHL, Flyers fans have loved to hate him.

Now Flyers fans may have reason to cheer him - if only momentarily, should his recent efforts actually help bring hockey back to the ice this season.

Crosby and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle were reportedly the big players in Tuesday's marathon bargaining session, which continued past the printing of this edition at the Westin Hotel in Times Square.

Last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suggested that the best way to perhaps jump-start negotiations in the 81-day lockout would be to remove himself and his adversary, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, from the bargaining table.

On Tuesday, with Bettman, Fehr and most of the lawyers patiently waiting on the sidelines, the two sides gathered for the first time since Nov. 21 and met well into the night.

At press time, 18 players and six owners were still meeting to try and move closer to a deal. Deputies to the power players, the NHL's Bill Daly and NHLPA's Steve Fehr, were also part of the negotiations.

Steve Fehr characterized the proceedings as "the best day we've had so far.''

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Crosby and Burkle flew cross-country together from California with powerful agent Pat Brisson to try and come up with a game plan for the meetings. The Tribune-Review said Burkle, co-owner Mario Lemieux and Crosby have "privately discussed plans to bridge the gap between players and owners" after "growing frustrated with the lack of progress."

They finally got their chance. Lemieux was also spotted at the Westin. Previously, contact between players and management had been prohibited according to league rules during the lockout.

"Cautious optimism" was the phrase sprinkled heavily throughout the night, especially after a break for dinner around 8 p.m., which came after nearly 6 hours of closed-door discussions. Tuesday's talks will set the tone for Wednesday's all-important Board of Governors meeting in New York, when all 30 team owners will meet for an update from Bettman.

It is expected that the NHL's governors would formulate some sort of longer-term plan, and possibly discuss drop-dead dates for a cancellation of the season, if there was no sign of progress.

Caution is a necessity because it has appeared that progress had been made before during this lockout, only to have both sides come back to spin their rhetoric.

With the meetings still continuing, one source who was in the room told the Daily News that "there was a reason they decided to continue meeting in the current format." For the first time, the two sides seemed to have found a formula that worked.

Donald Fehr and Bettman remained in the Westin during meetings, which also included breaks to update the brass on discussions.

No Flyers were represented in New York on Tuesday. However, the 18 players selected - including Crosby, Brad Richards and Ryan Miller and yeomen Kevin Westgarth, George Parros and B.J. Crombeen - displayed an interesting cross-section of union members. Nearly every age, experience and salary level of players was represented.

Crosby has remained consistent in his desire to play, having missed 101 regular-season games over the last two prime-of-his-career seasons. Westgarth and Parros have been actively involved in meetings. Miller and Andy McDonald have been outspoken critics of the lockout.

The owners were represented by Burkle, Boston hardliner Jeremy Jacobs, fellow negotiating committee member and Calgary owner Murray Edwards, Toronto part-owner Larry Tanenbaum, and relative newcomers in Winnipeg's Mark Chipman and Tampa Bay's Jeffrey Vinik.

The Daily News reported on Nov. 17 that the Penguins were one of the league's anti-lockout teams - and that the Flyers were possibly interested in teaming up with their cross-state rivals to help push toward a deal. It appears now that the Penguins have decided to take the bull by the horns.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider, president Peter Luukko and general manager Paul Holmgren will represent the team in New York on Wednesday at the Board of Governors meeting. Snider, 79, last attended a governors meeting on Sept. 13, just days before Bettman enacted the lockout on Sept. 15 at midnight.

Snider, who was heavily involved during the 2004-05 lockout, has not attended every Board of Governors meeting over the years. His franchise has also been represented by Luukko and alternate governor/Comcast-Spectacor general counsel Phil Weinberg.

So far, the NHL has canceled 422 regular-season games, in addition to the All-Star Game and Winter Classic. The games are canceled through Dec. 14 and we're quickly approaching the next deadline - which could mean yet another lost check for players.

Last weekend, the NHLPA voted to authorize a one-time payment of $10,000 for each locked-out player, to be paid from the union's war chest, in order to keep players afloat.

Slap shots

Scott Hartnell and former teammate James van Riemsdyk are competing against each other online to see who can raise the most money to benefit Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. The "loser"will have to go holiday shopping for the winner in full hockey gear. The campaign began on Tuesday and wraps up Dec. 18. For more information, visit . . . Flyers forward Tom Sestito left his team, the Sheffield Steelers, in England on Tuesday. After collecting 19 points in 17 games and becoming one of the EIHL's most popular players, Sestito is expected to sign for more money in Eastern Europe soon.

" @DNFlyers