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NHL closer than ever

NEW YORK -- Optimism is flowing here at the Westin Times Square, where it appears that traction has finally been made in this maddening 81-day NHL lockout.

We do not know what went on in those closed-door meetings today between 18 players and 6 owners. Neither side was available for questions afterward, clearly not wanting to trample on any progress that had been made.

"It may be the best day we've had so far," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said.

"I appreciate the efforts of the players in particular in there today," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

Yes, we don't know the discussion, how it went and who led it. But we do have some facts. Consider the following:

  1. When Daly and Steve Fehr addressed the media, they did so standing side-by-side for the first time during this process. They did not take questions. Neither did the players.

  2. The two sides met for more than 8 hours, beginning at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and extending to just before midnight, with a dinner break spliced in between to update the brass who was not in on the negotiations. The two sides also exited frequently to update the brass on proceedings.

  3. Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr did not participate in negotiations.

  4. Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux was also present at the Westin, where the meetings were spearheaded by Sidney Crosby and co-owner Ron Burkle.

  5. The two sides will reconvene meeting on Wednesday morning before the NHL's Board of Governors meeting. It is believed they will use the same format as Tuesday. It is also believed that they will either take a break in the meetings for Bettman to attend the Board of Governors meeting or that Bettman will break himself to run the meeting.

My gut on the situation?

These two sides are closer than ever. This is undoubtedly the most positive feeling - in terms of hope and optimism - that I've gotten during this process. Nonetheless, it is still a tenuous situation.

Walking out of the Westin early Wednesday morning, there were whispers that a tentative deal could be brokered as soon as this afternoon. No off-the-record sources were willing to confirm, but none also denied the possibility. For now, everyone is interested in keeping their mouths shut.

Why? At this very moment, the entire NHL season is teetering on the edge. Both sides are making a serious push to try and get a deal done. Should this push fizzle or fall through, both sides are likely to throw their hands up in the air - and the season could be wiped before their elbows hit the bargaining table again.

For now, hope is in the air. Buckle your seatbelt. It's time.

(By the way, the current setup would seem to suggest a 56-game, inter-conference schedule, which could begin as soon as Dec. 15. Rogers Sportsnet's Doug MacLean reported the 56-game idea.)

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers