The latest glimmer of hope for a breakthrough in the NHL lockout comes without the two lead negotiators in the room.
Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr skipped Tuesday's meeting.
The NHL commissioner and Players' Association head were at the New York hotel where the meeting took place. But they didn't participate in talks between 18 NHL players and six franchise owners.
Bettman's second in command, Bill Daly, attended the meeting, as did Fehr's lieutenant, brother Steve Fehr. But they reportedly had minimal roles in the discussion.
At the end of the eight-hour day, Daly and Fehr surprised just about everyone by standing side-by-side at the press conference and sounding notes of optimism.
They told reporters they were encouraged by the progress, and that talks would continue.
"I think everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so I think that's encouraging," said Daly.
"I thought it was a constructive day, we had a good dialogue," said Fehr. "In some ways I'd say it might be the best day we've had, which isn't to paint too overly optimistic of a picture."
Neither would talk about the details of the discussions.
Any optimism about the current talks must be tempered by the grim reality of how previous negotiations have floundered.
A week ago, the two sides appeared to be stuck at a major impasse, with few signs of compromise.
So what changed? Has there been movement on intractable issues like free agency, contracts term, and the "make whole" dispute?
And without Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman present, does the impression of "progress" count for anything?
Nobody is saying.
The players-owners meeting was suggested by Bettman ast week. The NHLPA agreed after thinking it over for a few days.
Franchise owners present on December 4 were Jeff Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ron Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Chipman of the Winnipeg Jets, Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames, and Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins.
The NHL Players' Association was represented by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, Ryan Miller, George Parros, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, and Kevin Westgarth.
More to come...