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Tampa Bay Lightning players sense urgency in NHL labor talks

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:03 AM
BRANDON -

Given the emotional roller coaster of following previous NHL labor negotiations, any signs of optimism from Tampa Bay Lightning players regarding the latest discussions were subdued on Wednesday.

While the NHL and the NHL Players' Association swapped proposals over the past few days, with signs of progress being reported, there was no sign from the gathering of players at the Ice Sports Forum for informal on-ice workouts that a deal might be imminent.

There was no sudden influx of players back in town, no sign of the workouts being more intense in preparation for a pending training camp and little sense the league is ready to take the chains off the doors and open for business.

"Nothing is ever one-hundred percent," Lightning player representative Adam Hall said Wednesday morning. "You don't know which way things are going to go. You can't predict the future.

"We are hopeful that the sides will be able to reach an agreement, but at the same time throughout the whole process we want something that is fair. That is why we are where we're at. I think a good deal is where both sides feel like they didn't get everything they want, but they are able to compromise and come together.''

One thing does appear evident: Two sides finally are taking part in true back-and-forth negotiations, with four proposals made in the past six days. Gone, apparently, is the league's take-it-or-leave-it approach.

So, why did it take this long to reach this point?

"They probably thought we were going to cave in and they would get everything,'' Lightning left wing Ryan Malone said. "Now they're like, 'Maybe we can get what we can get and move on.' "

There are some deadlines in play.

The first comes at midnight Wednesday when the NHLPA has to decide whether to file a disclaimer of interest. A vote from the players granted the executive committee the right to make the disclaimer by Jan. 2, although a vote of the union members could be taken again at a later date.

There also was the statement by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last week that a deal had to be agreed upon by Jan. 11 to start a 48-game shortened season by Jan. 19.

"I think sometimes that's just the nature of the situation, it seems like it really just takes the pressure of certain deadlines to get the sides together to actually make progress and get something done,'' Hall said. "I think it's unfortunate that this is the case, but it's not just this time. It's past negotiations as well.''

Does that leave room for some optimism the end of the lockout is within sight?

"It sounds like (the NHL owners) want to play, so we'll see next how the next couple of days go," Malone said. "All the negotiations, you think something good is going to happen.

"Even being locked out for this long is nuts, so for them to cancel another season is not even a good business move. They realize that and hopefully we can find some common ground and get back on the ice.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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