NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Wednesday gave hockey fans some optimism in a lockout that has been filled with pessimism.
In a radio interview with Hockey Night in Canada, Daly was asked a simple yes or no question: Will there be a 2012-13 NHL season? His response heartened fans from Nova Scotia to California.
"Yes," is all Daly said.
But almost immediately afterward, the verbiage returned to what it has been since mid-September: lots of posturing and little progress.
The NHL season has been cancelled through at least Dec. 30. The Winter Classic and NHL All-Star games are also history for at least this season.
"I think we're going to have further cancellations this week," Daly said, returning to a pessimistic tone.
No new negotiations are scheduled between the league and its players union. Further, it appears the work stoppage is headed to the courtroom for two different negotiating ploys. First, the NHL Players Association is expected to soon ask its players to vote and authorize the board to dissolve the union, essentially opening up the opportunity for players to sue the NHL.
If that happens, individual players could sue the league -- and potentially reap triple damages if they are successful. One target date mentioned for dissolution already is Jan. 2.
However, the threat of dissolution of the union has been successfully used in the past to quickly end previous lockouts in both Major League Baseball and the NBA.
NHLPA chief Donald Fehr told a Canadian radio station Wednesday that the union is not making an idle threat at potential dissolution and said such a ploy was not necessarily a labor tactic.
"Should the players decide that they don't want to be in a union, there won't be a union, so it will be the end of that," Fehr told Sportsnet 590. "We'll be living in a different world. The owners will have to comply with the antitrust laws. Individual players will have whatever rights they have."
On the flip side, the NHL is also heading to court as part of a class-action lawsuit against the players that would declare the three-month lockout legal.
Daly cast blame for lockout talks between both sides falling apart recently because the players union refused to accept the league's so-called final offer. Daly also blamed the union for the inability to get the stalled negotiation talks back on track.
"We've done as much as we can do and if you have a different idea or a different trade on the issues we talked about two weeks ago, let's hear it," Daly said.
NHL commissioner has repeatedly said he will settle for nothing fewer than a 48-game season. When the league had a similar lockout in the 1994-95 season, both sides finally reached agreement and began a 48-game season on Jan. 20. If history is to repeat itself, talks would not only have to resume, but a resolution would likely have to occur sometime around Jan. 10 or so.
If that were to happen, there would likely only be a one-week training camp, no exhibition games and the season would get underway.
"If you do the math and do what a responsible compression might look like ... you know what the neighborhood is of when we need to be playing hockey in order to be playing hockey this (season)," Daly said. "I don't think setting an absolute date necessarily serves any purpose at this point."
Still, telling NHL fans that there will be a season -- somehow, some way -- has to lift some spirits.