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The players’ association concluded a two-day vote among its members on Saturday night that was expected to again give the union’s executive board the authority to declare a disclaimer of interest.

The disclaimer can now be issued at any time. If so, 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.

NHL 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.

Trust has become a major impediment in the talks that appear to have been rescued to some extent by Beckenbaugh.

On Thursday morning, the sides solved 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. That dispute was over in about an hour, but clearly discord was present in the talks.

Another small meeting, the second of the day without union head Donald Fehr, addressed the pension plan. That one lasted just under two hours and marked the last time the sides met this week.

The players’ association held a late Thursday afternoon conference call to initiate its second vote on the disclaimer of interest.

A sense of progress might be why the union didn’t declare the disclaimer Wednesday, but any optimism created after the deadline passed has taken several hits since.

The NHLPA filed a motion in federal court in New York seeking to dismiss the league’s suit to have the lockout declared legal. The NHL sued the union in mid-December, figuring the players were about to submit their own complaint against the league.

But the union argued that the NHL is using the suit “to force the players to remain in a union. Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under … the National Labor Relations Act.”

The court scheduled a status conference for the sides on Monday.

The sides have traded four proposals in the past week _ two by each side _ but none has gained enough traction. Getting an agreement on a pension plan likely would go a long way toward a deal that would put hockey back on the ice.

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