NHL, union make progress in marathon talks

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NEW YORK (AP) - Marathon talks between the NHL and the players’ association stretched deep into Saturday night and then Sunday morning after the sides stayed apart for most of the previous two days.

Once federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh convinced the fighting factions to resume face-to-face negotiations Saturday afternoon, they were able to make progress. While no one commented publicly on what was accomplished, it was reported that headway was being made on key issues such as the pension plan and salary cap limits.

The sides began meeting around 1 p.m. EST and were still talking at 3:30 a.m. It was the longest session of this lockout and the second marathon meeting of the week. It also was the latest a session had gone into the night.

The league and the union talked until 1 a.m. Thursday before negotiations hit a snag.

Bargaining proceeded at a slow pace on Saturday, and the sides also separated to hold internal caucuses. Beckenbaugh conducted meetings alone with the union and league before bringing them together.

Beckenbaugh walked back and forth several times Friday between the Manhattan headquarters of each side _ beginning at 10 a.m. and wrapping things up shortly before 11 p.m.

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

Beckenbaugh began Saturday by holding a meeting with the union and then walked over to talk to the NHL office. He then made the trek back to the players’ association’s hotel for the group meeting.

The sides have less than a week to reach a new collective bargaining agreement to save what likely would be a 48-game hockey season.

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

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.

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