NHL, union have contact, but no talks scheduled

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NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL entered the final full day of its collective bargaining agreement with no sign of the owners and players coming together to hammer out a new deal.

Brief conversations late Thursday and Friday between leaders on the two sides failed to spur more formal talks _ in fact, the idea of restarting negotiations didn’t even come up. The collective bargaining agreement that ended the season-long lockout in 2005 expires at midnight EDT on Saturday, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said a lockout would kick in immediately if there is no deal in place.

“It’s their decision,” said defenseman Mike Weaver, the Florida Panthers’ player representative. “When that padlock comes out, it’s pretty much Bettman’s decision on there.”

The lockout would mark the NHL’s fourth work stoppage since 1992.

On Thursday night, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke to players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of union executive director Donald Fehr. The discussions mostly dealt with answering questions each side have about current proposals.

Bettman has said the season won’t start without a new deal. Preseason games are scheduled to start on Sept. 23, and the regular season is to begin on Oct. 11.

“We have been clear that the collective bargaining agreement, upon its expiration, needs to have a successful agreement for us to move forward,” Bettman said Thursday. “The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo.”

On Friday, the Quebec labor relations board turned down a request from the players’ association for a temporary injunction against a potential lockout in Quebec.

But the board also ruled Friday that more hearings are needed to make a final decision on a request by 16 members of the Montreal Canadiens and the players’ association to declare a lockout illegal in the province.

No date was set for further hearings.

With the ruling, Canadiens players will be locked out with their colleagues if a work stoppage goes ahead on schedule.

Daly was happy with the decision.

“We are pleased but not surprised with the Quebec labor board’s ruling tonight that any lockout of players will be effective on a league-wide basis, including in Quebec, and we are extremely appreciative of the expeditious and decisive manner in which the matter was handled,” he said in a statement. “We are hopeful that this ruling will cause the players’ association to cease pursuing these needless distractions and instead focus all of its efforts and energies on making progress at the bargaining table.”

The union also saw the decision as a positive development.

“We are pleased with the ruling that the commission released tonight.” players’ association general counsel Don Zavelo said in a statement. “While the commission denied the players’ request for emergency relief, it also rejected the NHL’s request to dismiss the case. The ruling acknowledges that the players have raised issues about the legality of the NHL’s planned lockout that require a full hearing on the merits.

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