Mediation in NHL talks to continue Saturday

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NEW YORK (AP) - A federal mediator bridged the widening gap between the NHL and the players’ association during 12 hours of talks without getting the fighting sides in the same room.

No one would say if progress was made over the course of the day and night Friday when mediator Scot Beckenbaugh walked back and forth between union and NHL headquarters in Manhattan to hold separate discussions with each side.

He began at 10 a.m. EST and didn’t stop until nearly 11 p.m.

There are still no plans for the league and the players to get back to the bargaining table for the first time since the early morning hours of Thursday, but Beckenbaugh scheduled more mediation sessions for Saturday morning.

“I’m looking forward to continuing the process tomorrow,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote to The Associated Press in an email late Friday night.

Beckenbaugh also took part in talks during the 2004-05 lockout, which forced the cancellation of the whole season.

After marathon talks broke off overnight Wednesday, the sides have remained apart with the exception of two smaller meetings on Thursday.

The lockout reached its 111th day Friday, and there is only one week left to reach a deal on a collective bargaining agreement that would allow for a 48-game hockey season _ the minimum the NHL has said it will play.

Commissioner Gary Bettman set a Jan. 11 deadline so the season can begin eight days later.

The players could be looking to wait until Saturday night to return to the bargaining table when it is expected that the executive board will again have the authority to exercise a disclaimer of interest that would allow the union to dissolve and become a trade association.

A vote among union members was initiated Thursday, and players have until 6 p.m. Saturday to cast their ballots that would allow the board to take the action of the disclaimer. An earlier vote passed overwhelmingly last month, but the union let its self-imposed deadline pass Wednesday night without acting on it.

A restoration of authority to go the route of the disclaimer might be the leverage the union wants before it starts negotiating again. If the union is dissolved, players can file individual antitrust suits against the NHL.

Representatives from the league and the union met twice Thursday for small meetings, one dealing with the pension plan, but never got together for a full bargaining session. A long night of discussions Wednesday that stretched into the early morning hours didn’t end well and created Thursday’s lack of activity.

The sides can’t afford many more days like that.

All games through Jan. 14, along with the All-Star game, have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

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