NEW YORK (AP) — If the NHL and the players' association have run out of things to talk about, how can they ever find a way to make a deal to save the hockey season?
It is a question both sides seem to have trouble answering, and not because they are being guarded or coy. The lockout is in its third month, and there is no obvious path to progress.
There was a hint of optimism after the league and locked-out players met a few times, but the view quickly became bleak. After a one-day break, the sides met Sunday and that brief return to the table also turned badly quickly. They haven't met — and have barely talked — since then.
Now NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested to players' association chief Donald Fehr that they take a two-week break from each other. If talking doesn't work, it is possible that not talking will?
Frustration and a hint of anger have entered the equation. So perhaps a cooling-off period would make some sense before the sides agree to get together again.
"I think what you have seen is disappointment with where we find ourselves in the process," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Friday in an email to The Associated Press. "I don't think it's a case of personal animosity."
That was one of two positive developments on Friday. Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr had a brief conversation during the day and planned to talk again over the weekend to discuss the next steps for bargaining.
Any contact qualifies as good news as the lockout drags on.
Staying apart could pose a problem because time has become a major factor. All games through Nov. 30 have already been taken off the schedule, more cancellations are likely within a week, the Winter Classic has been wiped out, the All-Star game is the next big event in jeopardy, and the whole season could be lost, too, in the blink of an eye.
Daly said Thursday that he is more discouraged now that at any other point in the process.
Fehr and the union haven't said whether or not they will agree to trial separation from the league. Publicly, the players have maintained the position that negotiations are the only way to work out differences and get a deal, and that they are willing to meet any time the NHL wants to.
"Of course everyone on the players' side wants to reach an agreement," Steve Fehr said Thursday night. "The players have offered the owners concessions worth about a billion dollars. What exactly have the owners offered the players? We believe that it is more likely that we will make progress if we meet than if we don't. So we are ready to meet.
"If indeed they do not want to meet, it will be at least the third time in the last three months that they have shut down the dialogue, saying they will not meet unless the players meet their preconditions. What does that tell you about their interest in resolving this?"
That came in response to Bettman's suggestion of a break, and other comments by Daly about the tenor of the discussions between the sides.