It’s dangerous to throw the word “progress” around involving the NHL and NHLPA’s talks about a 2020-21 season. So maybe we should instead say that there have been interesting “developments” in that process, at least based on reports. While the biggest hurdles remain (money, COVID-19), the NHL shared drafts with the NHLPA that could involve 56 or 52-game plans for the 2020-21 season, and maybe a mid-January start. That news comes from TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and other reporters.

Figuring out salary deferral/how to handle money concerns remains a monumental mountain to climb, though. So don’t get too excited about the 2020-21 NHL season kicking off in no time. And, again, the league must contend with a global pandemic.

But it’s interesting to hear reports of more specific details being discussed.

Before Seravalli shared those specifics, Elliotte Friedman pointed to “eyebrow-raising” comments Chip Alexander collected from Hurricanes GM Don Waddell. According to Alexander, Waddell pointed to a mid-January start for the 2020-21 NHL season. Maybe most promisingly — maybe too promisingly? — Waddell even stated some belief that the financial concerns might also be settled in the next few days.

This tweet raised eyebrows yesterday…Reason: hearing that NHL/NHLPA engaged in recent days about a Jan 15 start, with training camps opening approximately two weeks earlier. Number of games would be in the 50s. We will see where this goes over the next few days. https://t.co/pRwAXiE0QX

— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) December 4, 2020

Alexander brought attention to Waddell’s comments on Thursday night. By Friday morning, Seravalli reported that the NHL and NHLPA discussed details such as a possible 56-game season with a mid-January start. Yet, according to Seravalli’s report, financial details weren’t discussed.

Going further, Pierre LeBrun provided further details at The Athletic (sub required).

Via LeBrun, it’s increasingly likely that a Jan. 1 start date is unrealistic for the 2020-21 NHL season. Indeed, it’s possible that Jan. 2 could instead be a target start date for training camps. There’s still at least talk about giving the seven teams not involved in the Return to Play extra time to prepare for next season, but that’s no guarantee.

LeBrun also notes that the NHL would prefer to end the season by early July. Most obviously, that would avoid conflicting with the possible Summer Olympics. It also would give the NHL a better chance to hold a typical schedule for 2021-22 (82 games, October start). (Not to mention the birth of the Seattle Kraken.)

Sportsnet notes that Gary Bettman described these times as “the toughest of his career,” and it’s easy to see why.

Even ignoring the biggest challenges with financial details and COVID instability, getting the logistics right for a 2020-21 NHL season can’t be easy. Whether the games are played solely indoors, or there are some creative outdoor solutions.

To reiterate: plenty needs to go right for the NHL and NHLPA to agree upon a plan for the 2020-21 NHL season, from start date to money and other details. And COVID could derail even the soundest plans.

Yes, this at least sounds more productive than what we heard earlier this week, when reports indicated that progress was slow.

If there’s any phrase to latch onto, it’s still: “We’ll see.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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