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NHL labour talks go late, plan to meet again today

NEW YORK — A self-imposed deadline for the NHL Players’ Association to declare a “disclaimer of interest” passed with no indication of what the union decided.

The NHLPA’s executive board had until just before midnight on Wednesday to declare that it was dissolving — a move that could open the door for players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league.

However, top union representatives remained in meetings with the league beyond midnight, according to sources. It was part of another long day of talks with both continuing to trade proposals in a bid to save a shortened season.

Very few details of what is on the table emerged publicly with both sides closing ranks at a critical stage in negotiations. The league has set a Jan. 11 deadline to preserve a 48-game season and there was still some hope that 52 games could be squeezed in if an agreement was reached this week.

Players voted unanimously last month to give the 30-member executive board the authority to file a “disclaimer of interest” on their behalf. Even if they let the deadline pass, they will retain the option to hold another vote to restore the power in the future.

With the deadline looming, representatives from the NHL and the union met for about an hour Wednesday afternoon at the league’s office. The NHLPA presented a new proposal during the session and received a response when the sides reconvened in the evening. The late negotiating session was still going five hours after it started.

One issue that remained unsolved was the pension fund, which was discussed in a small group meeting on Wednesday morning. The players are seeking to have their pension switched to a defined benefit program but the league wasn’t enthused about assuming the financial risk that comes with it, according to sources.

On Tuesday night, commissioner Gary Bettman was reluctant to characterize how much progress has been made behind closed doors.

“The fact that we’re involved in a continuous process is something that I’m glad to see, but we’re clearly not done yet,” said Bettman.

However, the commissioner did acknowledge that the league offered some movement in Tuesday night’s offer while adding there were also areas where it refused to budge. It was unclear how many issues still need to be resolved and how far apart the sides are in key areas.

“Nobody is counting,” Bettman said. “We’re not trying to keep score, we’re trying to get an agreement.”

The two sides have exchanged a number of proposals after the NHL presented a 288-page contract offer to the union last week.

 
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