Little talking or movement in NHL labor fight

NEW YORK (AP) - If there is going to be a hockey season, the NHL and the players’ association can’t afford many more days like this.

A long night of bargaining Wednesday that stretched into the early morning hours didn’t end well and likely kept the sides apart for most of the day Thursday. No new full-scale negotiations took place, and outside of a few relatively brief, small sessions on specific topics, it was basically a lost day.

This is now January, and time is limited to reach a deal that would allow for a shortened hockey season. An agreement this week could have led to a 52-game season. That seems all but lost now.

If the sides can’t find common ground within the next week, a 48-game season _ the shortest NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would play _ will become impossible, too.

The tenor of the talks appeared to take a downward turn late Wednesday after the players’ association passed on declaring a disclaimer of interest that would have dissolved the union and turned it into a trade association.

The discord carried over to Thursday morning, when Bettman had said he expected to resume negotiations at 10 a.m. at the request of a federal mediator, but the union was holding internal meetings then and didn’t arrive at the league office until a few hours later.

And when players and staff did get there, they did so without executive director Donald Fehr. The group discussed a problem that arose regarding the reporting by clubs of hockey-related revenue, and how both sides sign off on the figures at the end of the fiscal year. The union felt the language had been changed without proper notification, but the dispute was solved and the meeting ended in about an hour.

The wait for more elaborate talks went on, and didn’t end until the players returned _ again without Fehr _ for a small meeting about the contentious pension plan. That one lasted just under two hours, and again the waiting game ensued.

But this time there wouldn’t be any talks, big or little. Neither side issued a statement, and Bettman was seen leaving league headquarters shortly after 9 p.m.

An NHL spokesman said discussions would resume between the NHL, the union and federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh on Friday morning.

The players’ association held a late afternoon conference call to initiate another vote among union membership that would give the executive board the power to invoke a disclaimer of interest.

Members gave overwhelming 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.

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.

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