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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York September 13, 2012.

CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS

A sliver of hope, then.

Bill Daly and Steve Fehr are apparently talking again after a weekend of exchanges in an undisclosed location (was Dick Cheney in the next room? Inquiring minds want to know.) In the course of chatting with a few players on background in the last few days, there is a sense that can be described as guarded optimism.

That's more or less how the players have felt since the beginning of this lockout thingy, so there's not a whole lot of bold new information to offer up and it's best not to invest too much hope in the latest incremental developments, but hey, it's a more encouraging sign than if there were rage and desperation.

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Or worse yet, indifference.

If in fact the league is willing to re-engineer its 'make-whole' provision on current contracts - aimed at transitioning the revenue split in a new CBA to 50-50 from the current 57-43 - in such a way where the players aren't out of pocket in the upcoming season, this could get sorted out pretty quickly.

"I think there's a deal there to be done, more so than a couple of weeks ago," said one player who doesn't want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.

At the same time, the player said, "I worry ego could get involved, and if that's the case all bets are off. I hope that's not the case"

That's not a reference to NHLPA boss Don Fehr's ego, but to that of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

As one would expect from a process like this, there is growing mistrust between the league and the players, and the fear expressed by several players is that once the 'principals' get involved in the talks, the groundwork laid by their emissaries tends to change.

The poor opinion the players hold of Bettman is worsening with each passing week - apropos of nothing, it's interesting that the league appears to have followed Republican pollster Frank Luntz's advice and given the more simpatico Daly a more prominent public role - and one gets the sense the current session might be pivotal.

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But here's the thing: if the two sides can reach a compromise on the main financial issues in the coming days, the rest of the negotiation should go relatively smoothly and could be sorted out sharpish, assuming no funny stuff from the lawyers in drafting the fine print (which come to think of it is a huge assumption given the jousting that happened over the final wording of the last CBA).

So talk to players and you'll likely get answers like this one: "I'm not going to start making travel plans just yet, but I'm encouraged."

We'll see.

Just because a deal is taking shape doesn't mean the two sides will grab it, but the sense, from the players' side at least, is that it could happen.

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