The threat of another bitter Labor dispute was left hanging over the start of the Stanley Cup finals when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Wednesday that negotiations on a new deal with the players should begin in the next few weeks.
In his 'State of the League' address ahead of Game One of the finals between the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings, Bettman downplayed the possibility of another lost season like the 2004-2005 campaign.
But with National Hockey League players association (NHLPA) chief Donald Fehr looking on, the atmosphere inside the Prudential Center was cool and businesslike with neither side willing to reveal their hand.
"My guess is that within the next few weeks will begin in small groups or larger groups to set the table about what we each might want to talk about," Bettman said.
"We look forward, finally, to beginning meetings with the players association.
"The goal obviously is to reach a collective bargaining agreement that can take the game and the business to even high levels than have been reached over the past seven seasons.
"It remains my hope that constructive negotiations can begin soon and culminate quickly."
Bettman painted a rosy picture of the NHL as a business and boasted that the league had played to 96 percent of capacity during regular season, pulling in close to 21.5 million fans and generating a record of $3.3 billion in revenue.
With players currently receiving 57 percent of that revenue, owners are expected to seek a bigger slice in the next deal to move closer to a 50-50 split.
The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on September 15.
"There are probably a host of things that we and the players' association would like to focus on, seven years is a long time (for the deal) to be in place," Bettman said. "During that time we've seen the game grow.
"We've seen incredible competitive balance, we've seen revenues set records each year but that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be adjustments that each of us would want to look at."
Bettman also touched on a couple of the league's trouble spots, including the Phoenix Coyotes, which the league continues to operate as it continues to search for an owner.
Former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison is close to a deal to take over the club Bettman said, adding there was no "Plan B" in place to move the franchise to Quebec City.
While the Devils were warming up for Game One of the championship series, Bettman was addressing the future of a team which has been on shaky financial footing while owner Jeffery Vanderbeek looks for investors.
Despite their success on the ice, the Devils are reported to be $80 million in debt and Bettman confirmed that Vanderbeek was close to refinancing that debt.
But it was the looming Labor negotiations that dominated the 30-minute briefing with Bettman denying speculation the league and players were on the path to another lockout.
"I don't understand both the speculation and the degree of negativity considering we, the league and players association have yet to have a substantive discussion on what we may each be looking for in collective bargaining," said Bettman.
"If someone is suggesting that it is because there is something in the water, people still have the NFL and NBA on the brain or just looking for news on a slow day because it is nothing more than speculation."
One of the items that will be included in the negotiations is the NHL's future participation in the Winter Olympics.
With the next two Winter Games set for Sochi, Russia (2014) and Pyeongchang, South Korea (2018), NHL owners have been lukewarm about shutting down the league mid-season and allowing players to go overseas.
"There are a whole host of issues that relate to the competitiveness of our season and what Olympic participation might do to that," said Bettman.
"The benefits from the Olympics have to be evaluated as we balance it against the impact it has.
"We have to take into account where the next two Olympics will be.
"Having said that, I look at this as problem solving that we need to do with the players association.
"It's a joint decision we have to do in the best interest of the league and the players."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)