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NHL lockout: Sides remain in contact as pressure builds to return to talks

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

Talks to end the NHL lockout broke off in rather nasty and unceremonious fashion on Thursday after three consecutive days of meetings appeared to make progress despite the rhetoric that was spewed.

No plans were made for future talks. Based on what was being said, it looked like they might take another cooling-off period. But the sides don't want to do that, according to Darren Dreger of TSN.

Further, from Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the sides have been in communication and are trying to figure out where to go next, presumably trying to set up the next meeting.

If nothing else, that desire is probably an indication the two sides indeed weren't that far off from a deal as Donald Fehr hinted Thursday -- and to which Gary Bettman vehemently disagreed. Otherwise, why would the sides be pushing for everybody to get back to the table again so soon?

Fehr more or less agrees with that sentiment, that a deal is within reach. He once again commented on how close he understood the sides to be.

"My comments from a couple of days ago stand on their own," Fehr said on Saturday. "I think we were very close."

Close, but obviously not there yet. It appears the big sticking point is the issue of contract term limits, which colleague Adam Gretz explained well in this post.

The big question, though, is whether or not they are still close to a deal on all the aspects. In Bettman's long media session Thursday, he said the offer to the players was no longer on the table, specifically the pieces that were added to the deal in last week's negotiations. That included an increase in the make whole offer (or transition period, as the NHLPA is now referring to it). There had been some reports the more hard-line owners wanted to take that offer off the table before. With the players rejecting that offer last week, it's not out of the question that it could be removed.

But that's most likely an idle threat. The NHL has said multiple times that offers were off the table or that they couldn't give any more "concessions" only to have those offers remain on the table or for them to back off some of their stances just a little bit more. If they want to get hockey back as soon as possible, they won't remove the offer completely. That would seem to be cutting off one's nose to spite their face.

Should they really want to get a deal finished, the NHL will get over feeling insulted about the players' response to their most recent offer and get back to where they left off. Assuming the offer was amicable to the owners then, it should still be amicable now. Labor negotiations like this aren't the time to start shutting things down out of emotion.

If you were to just judge on what was said by the principal parties, you'd think there's no way a deal is within sight. But there definitely is one that can be seen, and the sooner they can get back to the table to talk it out, the sooner they can put this crippling lockout behind all of us.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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