Mediator back at work in NHL labor fight

NEW YORK (AP) - Mediation between the NHL and the players’ association started again Saturday morning about 12 hours after it ended Friday night.

With the hockey season hanging in the balance, Saturday could prove to be a pivotal day on all fronts.

Federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh spent more than 12 hours Friday walking back and forth between the Manhattan headquarters of each side _ beginning at 10 a.m. EST and wrapping things up shortly before 11 p.m.

While Beckenbaugh never got the league and the union in the same room, enough was accomplished to convince the sides to keep going.

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

Beckenbaugh began Saturday by holding a meeting with the union and then walked over to talk to NHL officials. He then made the trek back to the players’ association for another get-together shortly before 1 p.m.

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

It isn’t yet known if the league and union will meet face-to-face Saturday, the 112th day of the lockout. The sides have less than a week to reach a new collective bargaining agreement to save what would likely be a 48-game hockey season.

The players’ association will conclude a two-day vote among its members at 6 p.m. Saturday that will determine whether the union’s executive board will again have the authority to declare a disclaimer of interest.

If the vote passes, as expected, the disclaimer can be issued, and the union would dissolve and become a trade association. That could send this fight to the courts and put the season in jeopardy. The disclaimer would allow players to file individual antitrust suits against the NHL.

Earlier this week, a self-imposed deadline expired on the first authorization that union members gave the board. The initial threat seemed to work in getting the NHL back to the bargaining table, but talks broke down Wednesday night after the deadline passed without action taken by the union.

Now the players want to regain the leverage the potential disclaimer gives them.

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

Commissioner Gary Bettman set a Jan. 11 deadline for a deal so the season can begin eight days later. A 48-game season is the minimum Bettman said the league would play.

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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