The Hockey News reported Friday that the NHL and the players' association will meet Saturday in New York after the league requested the sides get together again. ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek confirmed from an independent source that the sides agreed in principle to a deal including a $45 million salary cap and could un-cancel the season on Saturday.
Asked if there was any way a deal won't get done, a player close to the talks who asked to remain anonymous told The Hockey News, "Not that I can see. I couldn't possibly imagine the idea that somebody is going to try to make a name for themselves in the last minute here."
However, NHLPA spokesman Johnathon Weatherdon told Canada's TSN on Friday night that "the [Hockey News] report is absolutely false."
Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are still believed to be major players in the process. Both are reportedly in New York taking part in the talks.
"I believe all [that] stuff is pretty accurate," the player told The Hockey News.
A second source confirmed to The Hockey News that Lemieux traveled to New York on Friday.
On Wednesday, commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season, saying it was too late to play any semblance of a schedule. The cancellation made the NHL the first major North American sports league to lose a full season to a labor dispute.
Or did it?
In a statement released Friday night, the players' association said the NHL made the offer late Thursday night to get back together. NHL spokesman Frank Brown told ESPN that the league had no comment on the reports.
There was no immediate word on who would take part in the meeting, although Canada's TSN reported earlier Friday that NHL vice president Bill Daly and NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin -- who Hradek reported was traveling to New York on Friday night -- will be in attendance. TSN said Bettman and Goodenow may not be directly involved in the meeting.
One general manager told The Hockey News that Bettman used the cancellation to force NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow's hand -- i.e., if Goodenow thought he could maintain his reputation of being a successful deadline hunter, he was wrong.
"I think the timing has always been to get an agreement so that we can play," said New Jersey Devils president Lou Lamoriello, who has taken part in previous negotiations. "Right now, it's still get an agreement, and then if we get an agreement, then can we play?
"I think it's a little different than it was before," he said.
Hradek reported that even if an agreement is reached, there is no guarantee a season will be played this year.
"The way everything has transpired, nothing surprises me," said Lamoriello, who declined to say whether he would be in attendance.
Daly was involved in a closed-door meeting Friday evening and declined to comment.
There hadn't been any official contact between the NHL and the players' association since Tuesday night -- when the sides traded what they said were final offers.
All proposals were rejected, and Bettman went ahead and canceled the season Wednesday at a news conference that was scheduled two days earlier.
"I don't think anything was premature. It was a necessity," Lamoriello said. "It didn't appear to be going anywhere and there was too much jockeying going on.
"Right now, there's a chance of people getting down to possibly getting this done," he said.
Bettman said in a letter to Goodenow on Tuesday that the league's salary cap proposal of $42.5 million was as far as he could go and that there was no time or flexibility for negotiation.
Goodenow sent a letter back, proposing a soft cap at $49 million that could be exceeded by as much as 10 percent by teams twice during the course of the six-year deal.
It appeared there was momentum toward reaching a deal and that the season had a chance to be saved, since the sides were only $6.5 million apart on their cap numbers. But talking ceased after each side sent two letters to the other on Tuesday night.
There were big breakthroughs Monday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when the NHL agreed to drop its demand that player costs be linked to league revenues and the union, in turn, came off its steadfast opposition to a salary cap.
"We got through the philosophical end of it, so there's a better chance, but I think there is still a lot of work that has to be done and it still takes some time," Lamoriello said.
Bettman said the NHL couldn't afford the union's final proposal and said if all 30 teams spent $49 million on player costs, then more money would be paid out to players than last season.
Rumors began to swirl on Thursday, once the realization set in that the season had indeed been canceled.
"A lot of players, owners, managers saw how close the two negotiating teams got to a deal and I think people are just exploring if that can be explored any more," agent Pat Morris said Friday. "I don't know if it'll have a successful conclusion."
Bettman has said that teams lost more than $1.8 billion over 10 years -- the last time a collective bargaining agreement was reached. The previous lockout cut the 1994-95 season down to 48 games per team.
NHL clubs claim to have lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season.
Bettman said that a deal would have to be in the drafting stages by the end of last weekend if there was going to be time to play a 28-game season and a standard 16-team postseason.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.