NHL, union stay apart much of Thursday

NEW YORK (AP) - Any momentum gained from a long night of negotiations between the NHL and the players’ association seemed to have been lost Thursday when the sides remained mostly apart.

A meeting that Commissioner Gary Bettman said would begin at 10 a.m. EST didn’t start until several hours later, and then ended quickly.

That one hour of talks centered on the reporting of hockey-related revenues by teams, and both sides signing off on the figures at the end of the fiscal year. The problem was resolved.

The key issues that are still threatening the hockey season weren’t addressed then, but a small group of players and other union staff returned to the NHL office shortly before 6 p.m., to hold another meeting regarding the contentious pension plan.

Union head Donald Fehr didn’t take part in either of the two sessions Thursday and it wasn’t known if a full bargaining meeting would take place Thursday night.

The players’ association held a conference call at 5 p.m. to discuss starting another vote among union membership that would give the executive board the power to invoke a disclaimer of interest and dissolve the union.

Members gave overwhelmingly approval last month, but the union declined to disclaim before a self-imposed deadline Wednesday night. It wasn’t immediately known when a new authorization would expire. Players are expected to have 48 hours to vote, as opposed to the five days they were given the first time.

With the lockout in its 110th day, both sides understand the urgency to save a shortened season. They have several key issues to work out _ pensions and salary cap limits, among them.

Bettman has said a deal needs to be in place by next week so a 48-game season can begin Jan. 19. All games through Jan. 14 along with the All-Star game have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

The sides met in small groups throughout the day Wednesday. They held a full bargaining session with a federal mediator at night that lasted nearly five hours and ended about 1 a.m. Thursday.

The biggest detail to emerge was that Fehr remained as union executive director after players passed on their first chance to declare a disclaimer that would turn the union into a trade association. The disclaimer would allow individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.

Fehr wouldn’t address the issue Wednesday, calling it an “internal matter,” but added that the players were keeping all options open.

“The word disclaimer has yet to be uttered to us by the players’ association,” Bettman said Wednesday. “It’s not that it gets filed anywhere with a court or the NLRB. When you disclaim interest as a union, you notify the other side. We have not been notified and it’s never been discussed, so there has been no disclaimer.”

It was believed the union wouldn’t take action Wednesday if it saw progress being made. Neither side would characterize the talks or say if there was any movement toward common ground.

“There’s been some progress but we’re still apart on a number of issues,” Bettman said. “As long as the process continues I am hopeful.”

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