It's a fresh start.
After 40 collective bargaining sessions dating back to January 2003 failed to produce a deal in time to save the 2004-05 season, the NHL and NHL Players' Association meet today not to resume talks, but rather to start all over again.
''Everybody approaches a restart of discussions with the perspective that we are back at square one,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said in an e-mail Thursday, adding that it might be time to look at ''new approaches and concepts for each side.''
Saskin, Daly comment ahead of meeting
NHL general managers to meet in April
''Having said that, obviously a lot has been discussed and hopefully learned from over the last few years in terms of what works and doesn't work for each side.''
Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow will be among those taking part in today's meeting at an undisclosed location, although sources confirmed to The Canadian Press that the meeting is in Toronto.
Devils CEO and general manager Lou Lamoriello hopes all the baggage from past meetings is left behind.
''There shouldn't be anything personal, there shouldn't be anything other than what the issues are,'' Lamoriello said Thursday from his New Jersey office. ''Let's try and put in the background and get rid of all the misunderstandings and misrepresentations, whether they be intentional or unintentional, and just use common sense and come together and not regress.''
There will be no proposals from either side, just a general discussion meant to kick-start a process that has gone off the rails.
''We really have no expectations at this point,'' Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president and chief legal officer, said in an e-mail while in transit Thursday. ''This meeting is about seeing where we are, and what the parties' thoughts are about where we go from here.
''It remains our objective to reach a new agreement with the union at the earliest possible date.''
That's because the NHL would dearly love to save the entry draft slated for Ottawa in June, when it could welcome phenom Sidney Crosby into its fold with the first overall pick. It would also give the league a chance to re-launch itself with new rules meant to open up the game and an aggressive marketing campaign to try and lure back angry, disenchanted hockey fans.
The fact that the NHLPA accepted the invitation shows a glimmer of hope. Despite the fact players aren't due to get paid again until next October, the union perhaps realizes it should share the same urgency as the owners to get a deal done. The NHL has suffered immeasurable damage by not having a season and both sides need a deal done as soon as possible to stop the bleeding.
''When time is on your side, you always use it,'' said Lamoriello. ''But unfortunately, time is not on either side right now. For the good of the players, for the good of the fans, for the good of the organizations, for the good of representation (agents), the league, the union - there's no good that can come out of anything other than a sense of urgency to get a deal done.''
Perhaps with that frame of mind the two sides will break down the barriers that have prevented a deal from happening, but much progress will be needed to accomplish that.
''Hopefully the lessons learned from our prior history of unsuccessful negotiations can provide a basis for this restart to take place in an atmosphere conducive to making more progress this time,'' Saskin said.
The league intends to have a 2005-06 season one way or another, threatening the possible use of replacement players if a deal can't be worked out in time with the NHLPA.
The two sides haven't met since Feb. 19 in New York, when a last-ditch session was held with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the room, three days after Bettman had cancelled the season. The meeting was a disaster, both sides widening the gap when it appeared they were close on a deal that featured a salary cap without ''linkage'' - a fixed link between player costs and league revenues.
Click here to find out more!