In a sideways step for the NHL's labor talks Thursday, maneuvering superseded bargaining while the league and NHLPA remained mostly apart after a face-to-face session with a federal mediator that had ended at 1 Thursday morning.
There was no full bargaining session at NHL offices in Manhattan, and at 9 p.m., a league spokesman said the federal mediator, Scot Beckenbaugh, was continuing to speak with each side separately and talks would resume this morning.
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The activity on the 110th day of the lockout was more about litigation than negotiation while the clock ticked on a deadline to salvage a season. Some players, including Rangers center Brad Richards, arrived at 6 p.m. for a small group session. Pension issues were the topic.
Commissioner Gary Bettman repeatedly has said that the point of no return is a 48-game season that would have to start on Jan. 19, and the urgency is evident, even if the results so far are mixed. Stumbling blocks include how to fund pensions if revenues sink and a salary cap for 2013-14. The league wants $60 million; the players proposed $65 million.
To keep pressure on the league to negotiate, union executive director Donald Fehr and the PA's executive board asked for a revote of the more than 700 players to reaffirm the authorization for filing a disclaimer of interest. That vote was expected to be complete Saturday.
The players had voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 21 to give the board the power to disclaim, dissolve the union and form a trade association, which would allow players to file antitrust suits, a tactic employed by the NBA in 2011.
But Thursday's self-imposed midnight for filing the disclaimer deadline passed without the union notifying the NHL, so a revote would be required. Bettman said late Wednesday the word "disclaimer" had not been mentioned in the contract discussions.
The union also filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New York, which was required by Jan. 7, seeking to dismiss the league's mid-December suit to have the lockout declared legal. The union argued, in a statement, that the NHL used 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." Judge Paul A. Englemayer scheduled a conference on Monday morning.
After a week of exchanging four proposals and closing the gap on some issues, the day began poorly. Beckenbaugh met for about an hour with NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and a small group of players at league offices Thursday morning to resolve a dispute over changed language lessening fines for teams who "hide" hockey-related revenues. Some players, speaking not for attribution, were unhappy, saying they were misled.